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YALE UNIVERSITY 




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ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION 

1949 



JOHN COWPER POVYS 

WOLF SOLENT 



A NOVEL 



1929 



SIMON AND SCHUSTER 

NEW YORK 



FIRST PRINTING, MAY 1929 

SECOND PRINTING, MAY ig29 

THIRD PRINTING, JUNE 1929 

FOURTH PRINTING, JUNE 1929 



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 

COPYRIGHT, 1929, BY SIMON AND SCHUSTER, INC. 
37 WEST 57 STREET NEW YORK 

PRINTED IN U. S. A. BY VAIL-BALLOU PRESS, BINGHAMTON 
BOUND BY H. WOLFF EST., N. Y. 
DESIGNED BY ANDOR BRAUN 



AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED 

TO 
FATHER HAMILTON COWPElT JOHNSON 



CONTENTS 



VOLUME ONE 

1 The Face on the Waterloo Steps 1 

2 "Christ! I've had a happy life! 99 18 

3 A Dorset Chronicle 42 

4 Gerda 62 

5 The Blackbird's Song 115 

6 Bar Sinister 161 

7 Yellow Bracken 203 

8 The Three Peewits 244 

9 The Horse-Fair 264 

10 Christie 327 

11 The Tea-Party 376 

12 The Slow-Worm of Lenty 392 

13 Home for Bastards 411 

14 Crooked Smoke 433 

15 Rounded with a Sleep 480 



VOLUME TWO 

16 A Game of Bowls 491 

17 "This is Reality" 537 

18 The School-Treat 562 

19 Wine 608 

20 Mr. Malakite at Weymouth 679 

21 "Slate" ' 709 

22 The Quick or the Dead? 774 

23 Lenty Pond 817 

24 "Forget" 863 

25 Ripeness is All 917 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 



I 1 ROM WATERLOO STATION TO THE SMALL COUNTRY 

town of Ramsgard in Dorset is a journey of not more 
than three or four hours, but having by good luck 
found a compartment to himself, Wolf Solent was able 
to indulge in such an orgy of concentrated thought, that 
these three or four hours lengthened themselves out into 
something beyond all human measurement. 

A bluebottle fly buzzed up and down above his head, 
every now and then settling on one of the coloured adver- 
tisements of seaside resorts Weymouth, Swanage, Lul- 
worth, and Poole cleaning its front legs upon the masts 
of painted ships or upon the sands of impossibly ceru- 
lean waters. 

Through the open window near which he sat, facing 
the engine, the sweet airs of an unusually relaxed March 
morning visited his nostrils, carrying fragrances of 
young green shoots, of wet muddy ditches, of hazel-copses 
full of damp moss, and of primroses on warm grassy 
hedge-banks. 

Solent was not an ill-favoured man; but on the other 
hand he was not a prepossessing one. His short stubbly 
hair was of a bleached tow-colour. His forehead as well 
as his rather shapeless chin had a tendency to slope 
backward, a peculiarity which had the effect of throwing 
the weight of his character upon the curve of his hooked 
nose and upon the rough, thick eyebrows that overarched 
his deeply sunken grey eyes. 



2 WOLF SOLENT 

He was tall and lean; and as he stretched out his legs 
and clasped his hands in front of him and bowed his 
head over his bony wrists, it would have been difficult 
to tell whether the goblinish grimaces that occasionally 
wrinkled his physiognomy were fits of sardonic chuck- 
ling or spasms of reckless desperation. 

His mood, whatever its elements may have been, was 
obviously connected with a crumpled letter which he 
more than once drew forth from his side-pocket, rapidly 
glanced over, and replaced, only to relapse into the same 
pose as before. 

The letter which thus affected him was written in a 
meticulously small hand and ran as follows: 

MY DEAR SIR: 

Will you be so kind as to arrive at Ramsgard on Thursday 
in time to meet my friend Mr. Darnley Otter about five o'clock 
in the tea-room of the Lovelace Hotel? He will be driving over 
to King's Barton that afternoon and will convey you to his 
mother's house, where for the present you will have your room. 
If it is convenient I would regard it as a favour if you will come 
up and dine with me on the night of your arrival. I dine at 
eight o'clock; and we shall be able to talk things over. 

I must again express my pleasure at your so prompt accept- 
ance of my poor oifer. 

Yours faithfully, 

JOHN URQUHART. 

He re-invoked the extraordinary incident which had 
led to his "prompt acceptance" of Mr. Urquhart's "poor 
offer." 

He was now thirty-five and for ten years he had labo- 
riously taught History at a small institution in the city 
of London, living peacefully under the despotic affection 
of his mother, with whom, when he was only a child of 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 3 

ten, he had left Dorsetshire, and along with Dorsetshire 
all the agitating memories of his dead father. 

As it happened, his new post, as literary assistant to 
the Squire of King's Barton, brought him to the very 
scene of these disturbing memories; for it was from a 
respectable position as History Master in Ramsgard 
School that his father had descended, by a series of 
mysterious headlong plunges, until he lay dead in the 
cemetery of that town, a byword of scandalous depravity. 

It was only the fact that the Squire of King's Barton 
was a relative of Lord Carfax, a cousin of Wolf's mother, 
that had made it possible for him to find a retreat, suit- 
able to his not very comprehensive abilities, after the 
astounding denouement of his London life. 

He could visualize now, as if it had occurred that very 
day instead of two months ago, the outraged anger upon 
his mother's face, when he communicated to her what 
had happened. He had danced his "malice-dance" that 
is how he himself expressed it in the middle of an 
innocent discourse on the reign of Queen Anne. He was 
telling his pupils quite quietly about Dean Swift; and 
all of a sudden some mental screen or lid or dam in his 
own mind completely collapsed and he found him- 
self pouring forth a torrent of wild, indecent invectives 
upon every aspect of modern civilization. 

He had, in fact, so at least he told his mother, danced 
his "malice-dance" on that quiet platform to so aban- 
doned a tune, that no "authorities," in so far as they 
retained their natural instincts at all, could possibly 
condone it. 

And now, with that event behind him, he was escaping 



4 WOLF SOLENT 

from the weight of maternal disapproval into the very 
region where the grand disaster of his mother's life 
had occurred. 

They had had some very turbulent scenes after the 
receipt of Mr. Urquhart's first answer to his appeal. 
But as she had no income *and only very limited savings, 
the sheer weight of economic necessity drove her into 
submission. 

"You shall come down to me there when I've got a 
cottage," he had flung out; and her agitated, handsome 
face, beneath its disordered mass of wavy, grey hair, 
had hardened itself under the impact of those words, as 
if he had taken up her most precious tea-set and dashed 
it into fragments al her feet. 

One of 'the suppressed emotions that had burst forth 
on that January afternoon had had to do with the ap- 
palling misery of so many of his fellow Londoners. He 
recalled the figure of a man he had seen on the steps 
outside Waterloo Station. The inert despair upon the 
face that this figure 'had turned towards him came be- 
tween him now and a hillside covered with budding 
beeches. The face was repeated many times among those 
great curving masses of emerald-clear foliage. It was 
an English face; and it was also a Chinese face, a Rus- 
sian face, an Indian face. It had the variableness of that 
Protean wine of the priestess Bacbuc. It was just the 
face of a man, of a mortal man against whom Providence 
had grown as malignant as a mad dog. And the woe 
upon the face was of such a character that Wolf knew 
at once that no conceivable social readjustments or 
ameliorative revolutions could ever atone for it could 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 5 

ever make up for the simple irremediable fact that it 
had been as it had been! 

By the time the hill of beeches had disappeared, he 
caught sight of a powerful motor-lorry clanging its way 
along a narrow road, leaving a cloud of dust behind it, 
and the sight of this thing gave his thought a new direc- 
tion. There arose before him, complicated and inhu- 
man, like a moving tower of instruments and appliances, 
the monstrous Apparition of Modern Invention. 

He felt as though, with aeroplanes spying down upon 
every retreat like ubiquitous vultures, with the lanes in- 
vaded by iron-clad motors like colossal beetles, with no 
sea, no lake, no river, free from throbbing, thudding en- 
gines, the one thing most precious of all in the world 
was being steadily assassinated. 

In the dusty, sunlit space of that small tobacco- 
stained carriage, he seemed to see, floating and helpless, 
an image of the whole round earth ! And he saw it bleed- 
ing and victimized, like a smooth-bellied, vivisected 
frog. He saw it scooped and gouged and scraped and 
harrowed. He saw it hawked at out of the humming air. 
He saw it netted in a quivering entanglement of vibra- 
tions, heaving and shuddering under the weight of iron 
and stone. 

Where, he asked himself, as for the twentieth time he 
took out and put back Mr. Urquhart's letter where, in 
such a vivisected frog's-belly of a world, would there 
be a place left for a person to think any single thought 
that was leisurely and easy? And, as he asked himself 
this and mentally formed a visual image of what he 
considered "thought," such "thought" took the form of 



6 WOLF SOLENT 

slowly stirring, vegetable leaves, big as elephants' feet, 
hanging from succulent and cold stalks on the edges of 
woodland swamps. 

And then, stretching out his legs still further and 
leaning back against the dusty cushions, he set himself' 
to measure the resources of his spirit against these ac- 
cursed mechanisms. He did this quite gravely, with no 
comic uneasiness at the arrogance of such a proceeding. 
Why should he not pit his individual magnetic strength 
against the tyrannous machinery invented by other men? 

In fact, the thrill of malicious exultation that passed 
through his nerves as he thought of these things had a 
curious resemblance to the strange ecstasy he used to 
derive from certain godlike mythological legends. He 
would never have confessed to any living person the 
intoxicating enlargement of personality that used to come 
to him from imagining himself a sort of demiurgic force, 
drawing its power from the heart of Nature herself. 

And it was just that sort of enlargement he experi- 
enced now, when he felt the mysterious depths of his 
soul stirred and excited by his defiance of these modern 
inventions. It was not as though he fell back on any 
traditional archaic obstinacy. What he fell back upon 
was a crafty, elusive cunning of his own, a cunning both 
slippery and serpentine, a cunning that could flow like 
air, sink like rain-water, rise like green sap, root itself 
like invisible spores of moss, float like filmy pond-scum, 
yield and retreat, retreat and yield, yet remain uncon- 
quered and inviolable! 

As he stared out the open window and watched each 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 7 

span of telegraph-wires sink slowly down till the next 
telegraph-post pulled them upward with a jerk, he in- 
dulged himself in a sensation which always gave him a 
peculiar pleasure, the sensation of imagining himself to 
be a prehistoric giant who with an effortless ease ran 
along by the side of the train, leaping over hedges, 
ditches, lanes, and ponds, and easily rivalled, in natural- 
born silent speed, the noisy mechanism of all those pis- 
tons and cog-wheels! 

He felt himself watching this other-self, this leaping 
giant, with the positive satisfaction of a hooded snake, 
thrusting out a flickering forked tongue from coils that 
shimmered in the sun. And yet as the train rushed for- 
ward, it seemed to him as if his real self were neither 
giant nor snake; but rather that black-budded ashtree, 
still in the rearward of its leafy companions, whose 
hushed grey branches threw so contorted a shadow upon 
the railway bank. 

Soon the train that carried him ran rapidly past the 
queer-looking tower of Basingstoke church, and his 
thoughts took yet another turn. There was a tethered 
cow eating grass in the churchyard; and as for the space 
of a quarter of a minute he watched this cow, it gathered 
to itself such an inviolable placidity that its feet seemed 
planted in a green pool of quietness that was older than 
life itself. 

But the Basingstoke church-tower substituted itself 
for the image of the cow; and it seemed to Solent as 
though all the religions in the world were nothing but so 
many creaking and splashing barges, whereon the souls 



8 WOLF SOLENT 

of men ferried themselves over those lakes of primal 
silence, disturbing the swaying water-plants that grew 
there and driving away the shy water-fowl! 

He told himself that every church-tower in the land 
overlooked a graveyard, and that in every graveyard 
was a vast empty grave waiting for the "Jealous Father 
of Men" who lived in the church. He knew there was 
just such a church-tower at King's Barton, and another 
one at Ramsgard, and yet another at Blacksod, the town 
on the further side of Mr. Urquhart's village. 

He sat very upright now, as the train approached 
Andover; and the idea came into his head, as he fixed 
his gaze on his fellow traveller, the bluebottle fly, who 
was cleaning his front legs on a picture of Swanage 
pier, that from tower to tower of these West Country 
churches there might be sent, one gusty November 
night, a long-drawn melancholy cry, a cry heard only 
by dogs and horses and geese and cattle and village- 
idiots, the real death-cry of a god dead at last of ex- 
treme old age! 

"Christ is different from God," he said to himself. 
"Only when God is really dead will Christ be known 
for what He is. Christ will take the place of God then." 

As a sort of deliberate retort to these wild fancies, 
the tall spire of Salisbury Cathedral rose suddenly be- 
fore him. Here the train stopped; and though even here 
possibly because his absorption in his thoughts gave 
him a morose and uncongenial appearance no one en- 
tered his third-class carriage, the stream of his cogita- 
tions began to grow less turbid, less violent, less de- 
structive. The austerity of Salisbury Plain yielded noiy 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 9 

to the glamour of Blackmore Vale. Dairy-farms took the 
place of sheep-farms; lush pastures, of bare chalk- 
downs; enclosed orchards, of open cornfields; and park- 
like moss-grown oaks, of wind-swept naked thorn-bushes. 

The green, heavily-grassed meadows through which the 
train moved now, the slow, brown, alder-shaded streams, 
the tall hedgerows, the pollarded elms all these things 
made Solent realize how completely he had passed from 
the sphere of his mother's energetic ambitions into the 
more relaxed world, rich and soft and vaporous as the 
airs that hung over those mossy ditches, that had been 
the native land of the man in the Ramsgard cemetery. 

His mother's grievances, posthumous and belated, but 
full of an undying vigour, had never really made him 
hate his father; and somehow the outburst that had 
ended his scholastic career had released certain latent 
instincts in him which now turned, with a fling of rebel- 
lious satisfaction, to the wavering image of his sinister 
begetter. 

Children, he knew, were often completely different 
from both their progenitors, but Wolf had a shrewd 
suspicion that there was very little in him that did not 
revert, on one side or the other, to his two parents. He 
was now thirty-five, a grim, harassed-looking, clean- 
shaven man, with sunken eye-sockets; but he felt his 
heart beating with keen excitement, as, after an absence 
of a quarter of a century, he returned to his native pas- 
tures. 

What would he find in that house of "Darnley Otter's 
mother?" Who was this Darnley Otter? What had he 
to do with Mr. Urquhart? And what would Mr. Urqu- 



20 WOLF SOLENT 

hart reveal that evening as to the form his own services 
were to take? 

As the train drew up at Semley, he read the words, 
"For Shaftesbury," upon the notice-board; and very soon 
the high grassy battlements of the great heathen fortress 
loomed against the sky-line. 

Staring at those turf-covered bastions, and drawing 
into his lungs lovely breathings from damp moss and 
cold primroses breathings that seemed to float up and 
down that valley on airy journeys of their own he 
found himself gathering his mental resources together 
so as to face with a concentrated spirit whatever awaited 
him in these pleasant places. . . . "Christ is not a man; 
He never was a man," he thought. "And He will be more 
than a god when God is dead. . . . Three church-towers 
. . . three. Ramsgard . . . King's Barton . . . Black- 
sod . . . it's quaint to think that I've absolutely no idea 
what I shall be feeling when I touch with my hand the 
masonry of those three towers ... or what people I 
shall know! I hope I shall find some girl who'll let me 
make love to her . . . tall and slim and white! I'd like 
her to be very white . . . with a tiny little mole, like 
Imogen's, upon her left breast. ... I'd like to make 
love to her out-of-doors . . . among elder-bushes . . . 
among elder-bushes and herb Robert. . . ." 

He pulled in his legs and clasped his hands over his 
knees, leaning forward, frowning and intent. "I don't 
care whether I make money. I don't care whether I get 
fame. I don't care whether I leave any work behind me 
when I die. All I want is certain sensations!" And with 
all the power of his wits he set himself to try and ana- 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 11 

lyze what these sensations were that he wanted beyond 
everything. 

The first thing he did was to attempt to analyze a 
mental device he was in the habit of resorting to a 
device that supplied him with the secret substratum of 
his whole life. This was a certain trick he had of doing 
what he called "sinking into his soul." This trick had 
been a furtive custom with him from very early days. In 
his childhood his mother had often rallied him about it 
in her light-hearted way, and had applied to these 
trances, or these fits of absent-mindedness, an amusing 
but rather indecent nursery name. His father, on the 
other hand, had encouraged him in these moods taking 
them very gravely, and treating him, when under their 
spell, as if he were a sort of infant magician. 

It was, however, when staying in his grandmother's 
house at Weymouth, that the word had come to him 
which he now always used in his own mind to describe 
these obsessions. It was the word "mythology"; and he 
used it entirely in a private sense of his own. He could 
remember very well where he first came upon the word. 
It was in a curious room, called "the ante-room," which 
was connected by folding-doors with his grandmother's 
drawing-room, and which was filled with the sort of 
ornamental debris that middle-class people were in the 
habit of acquiring in the early years of Queen Victoria. 
The window of his grandmother's room opened upon the 
sea; and Wolf, carrying the word "mythology" into this 
bow-window, allowed it to become his own secret name 
for his own secret habit. 

This "sinking into his soul" this sensation which he 



12 WOLF SOLENT 

called "mythology" consisted of a certain summoning- 
up, to the surface of his mind, of a subconscious mag- 
netic power which from those very early Weymouth 
days, as he watched the glitter of sun and moon upon 
the waters from that bow-window, had seemed prepared 
to answer such a summons. 

This secret practice was always accompanied by an 
arrogant mental idea the idea, namely, that he was tak- 
ing part in some occult cosmic struggle some struggle 
between what he liked to think of as "good" and what 
he liked to think of as "evil" in those remote depths. 

How it came about that the mere indulgence in a 
sensation that was as thrilling as a secret vice should 
have the power of rousing so bold an arrogance, Wolf 
himself was never able to explain; for his "mythology," 
as he called it, had no outlet in any sort of action. It 
was limited entirely to a secret sensation in his own 
mind, such as he would have been hard put to it to ex- 
plain in intelligible words to any living person. 

But such as it was, his profoundest personal pride 
what might be called his dominant life-illusion de- 
pended entirely upon it. 

Not only had he no ambition for action; he had no 
ambition for any sort of literary or intellectual achieve- 
ment. He hid, deep down in his being, a contempt that 
was actually malicious in its pride for all the human 
phenomena of worldly success. It was as if he had been 
some changeling from a different planet, a planet where 
the issues of life the great dualistic struggles between 
life and death never emerged from the charmed circle 
of the individual's private consciousness. 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 13 

Wolf himself, if pressed to describe it, would have 
used some simple earthly metaphor. He would have said 
that his magnetic impulses resembled the expanding of 
great vegetable leaves over a still pool leaves nourished 
by hushed noons, by liquid transparent nights, by all 
the movements of the elements but making some inex- 
plicable difference, merely by their spontaneous expan- 
sion, to the great hidden struggle always going on in 
Nature between the good and the evil forces. 

Outward things, such as that terrible face on the 
Waterloo steps or that tethered cow he had seen at Bas- 
ingstoke, were to him like faintly limned images in a 
mirror, the true reality of which lay all the while in his 
mind in these hushed expanding leaves in this secret 
vegetation the roots of whose being hid themselves be- 
neath the dark waters of his consciousness. 

What he experienced now was a vague wonder as to 
whether the events that awaited him these new scenes 
these unknown people would be able to do what no 
outward events had yet done break up this mirror of 
half-reality and drop great stones of real reality drop 
them and lodge them hard, brutal, material stones 
down there among those dark waters and that mental 
foliage. 

"Perhaps I've never known reality as other human 
beings know it," he thought. "My life has been indus- 
trious, monotonous, patient. I've carried my load like a 
camel. And I've been able to do this because it hasn't 
been my real life at all! My 'mythology' has been my 
real life." 

The bluebottle fly moved slowly and cautiously across 



14 WOLF SOLENT 

Weymouth Bay, apparently seeking some invisible atom 
of sustenance, seeking it now off Redcliff, now off Ring- 
stead, now off White Nore. 

A sudden nervousness came upon him and he shivered 
a little. "What if this new reality, when it does come, 
smashes up my whole secret life? But perhaps it won't 
be like a rock or stone . . . perhaps it won't be like 
a tank or lorry or an aeroplane . . ." 

He clasped his bony fingers tightly together. "Some 
girl who'll let me make love to her . . . 'white as a 
peeled willow-wand' . . . make love to her in the mid- 
dle of a hazel wood . . . green moss . . . primroses 
. , . moschatel . . . whiteness. . . ." He unclasped his 
fingers; and then clasped them again, this time with 
the left hand above the right hand. 

It was nearly twelve o'clock when the train drew up 
at Longborne Port, a village which he knew was the 
last stop before he reached Ramsgard. 

He rose from his seat and took down his things from 
the rack, causing, as he did so, so much agitation to 
his only travelling-companion, the bluebottle fly, that 
it escaped with an indignant humming through the win- 
dow into the unfamiliar air-fields of Dorsetshire. 

A young, lanky, bareheaded porter, with a counte- 
nance of whimsical inanity, bawled out at the top of his 
voice, as he rattled his milk-cans: "Longborne Port! 
Longborne Port!" 

Nobody issued from the train. Nothing was put out of 
the train except empty milk-cans. The young man's 
voice, harsh as a corncrake's, seemed unable to disturb 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 15 

the impenetrable security which hung, like yellow pollen 
upon a drooping catkin, over those ancient orchards 
and muddy lanes. 

And there suddenly broke in upon the traveller, as he 
resumed his seat, with his coat and stick and bag spread 
out before him, the thought of how those particular syl- 
lables "Longborne Port!" mingling with the clatter 
of milk-cans, would reproduce to some long-dead human 
skull, roused to sudden consciousness after centuries of 
non-existence, the very essence of the familiar life upon 
earth! 

What dark November twilights, what drowsy August 
noons, what squirtings of white milk into shining pails, 
would those homely syllables summon forth! 

He lay back, breathing rather quickly, as the train 
moved out of that small station. For the last time he 
took from his pocket Mr. Urquhart's letter. "Darnley 
Otter!" he said to himself. "It's odd to think how little 
that name means now, and how much it may mean to- 
morrow!" Why was it that, when the future was very 
likely all there already, stretched out like the great Wes- 
sex Fosse-way in front of him, he didn't get some sort 
of second-sight about it by merely reading those words 
in Mr. Urquhart's neat hand? What kind of man was 
Darnley Otter? Was he a plain, middle-aged man like 
himself or was he a beautiful youth? The idea of beau- 
tiful youths made his mind once more revert to "peeled 
willow-wands," but he easily suppressed this thought in 
the excitement of the moment. 

Ay! There were the ruins of the great Elizabethan's 



16 WOLF SOLENT 

castle. And there was the wide gr.assy expanse where the 
town held its Annual Agricultural Show, and where the 
Ramsgard schoolboys were wont in old days to run their 
Steeplechase! 

How it all came back! Twenty-five years it was, since 
he left it, frightened and bewildered by his parents' sepa- 
ration; and how little it had changed! 

He let his gaze wander over the high tops of the park 
beech-trees till it lost itself in the blue sky. 

Millions of miles of blue sky; and beyond that, mil- 
lions of miles of sky that could scarcely be called blue 
or any other colour pure unalloyed emptiness, stretch- 
ing outwards from where he sat with his stick and coat 
opposite him to no conceivable boundary or end! 
Didn't that almost prove that the whole affair was a 
matter of thought? 

Suppose he were now, at this moment, some Rams- 
gard boy returning to school? Suppose he were Solent 
Major instead of Wolf Solent? And suppose some genial 
house-master, meeting him on the platform, were to say 
to him: "Well, Solent, and what have you made of your 
twenty-five years' holiday?" What would he answer to 
that? 

As the train began to lessen its pace by the muddy 
banks of the river Lunt, he hurriedly, and as if from 
fear of that imaginary master, formulated his reply. 

"I've learnt, Sir, to get my happiness out of sensa- 
tion. I've learnt, Sir, when to think and when not to 
think. I've learnt . . ." 

But at this point his excitement at catching sight of 
the familiar shape of the Lovelace Hotel, across the 



THE FACE ON THE WATERLOO STEPS 17 

Public Gardens, was so overwhelming, that the imaginary 
catechism came to an end in mid-air. 

"I shall send my things over in the bus," he thought, 
standing up and grasping his bag. "And then I shall go 
and see if Selena Gault is still alive!" 



"CHRIST! I'VE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 



JtilS EXCITEMENT GREW RATHER THAN DIMINISHED AS HE 
got out of the train. 

He gave up his ticket to an elderly station-master, 
whose air, at once fussily inquisitive and mildly defer- 
ential, suggested the manner of a cathedral verger. He 
watched his luggage being deposited on the Lovelace 
Bus; and there came over him a vague recollection of 
some incident of those early years, wherein his mother, 
standing by that same shabby vehicle, or one exactly re- 
sembling it, with a look of contemptuous derision on 
her formidable face, said something hard and ironical 
to him which lashed his self-love like a whip. 

Opposite the station were the railed-in Public Gar- 
dens. These also brought to his mind certain isolated 
trivial occurrences of his childish days; and it struck 
him, even in his excitement, just then as being strange 
that what he remembered were things that had hurt his 
feelings rather than things that had thrilled him. 

In place of following the bus round the west of the 
Gardens, where the road led to the Hotel, and then on 
past the police-station to the Abbey, he turned to the east 
and made his way across a small river-bridge. Here, 
again, the look of a certain old wall against the water, 
and certain patches of arrow-head leaves within the 
water, stirred his memory with a sudden unexpected agi- 
tation. 

It was over this very bridge that twenty-five years ago 



"CHRIST! WE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 19 

he had leaned with his father while William Solent 
showed him the difference between loach and gudgeon, 
and in a funny, rambling, querulous voice deplored 
the number of castaway tins that lay in the muddy 
stream. 

But Wolf did not lean over the bridge this time. He 
heard the Abbey clock striking one, and he hurried on 
up Saint Aldhelm's Street. Newly-budded plane-trees cast 
curious little shadows, like deformed butterflies, upon the 
yellowish paving-stones; and over the top of an uneven 
wall at his side protruded occasional branch-ends of 
pear-blossom. 

He came at last to a green door in the wall. 

"Is it possible," he wondered uneasily, "that Selena 
Gault lives here still?" 

He allowed a baker's cart to rattle negligently past 
him while he made two separate hesitating movements of 
his hand towards the handle of the green door. 

It was queer that he should have had an instinct to 
look sharply both up and down the street before he 
brought himself to turn that handle. It was almost as 
though he felt himself to be a hunted criminal, taking 
refuge with Selena Gault! But the street was quite de- 
serted now, and with a quick movement he boldly opened 
the gale and entered the garden. 

A narrow stone path led up to the door of the house, 
which resembled a doll's house, brilliantly painted with 
blues and greens. Blue and white hyacinths grew inr 
masses on either side of the path; and their scent, caught 
and suspended in that enclosed space, had a fainting, 
ecstatic voluptuousness which was at variance with the 



20 WOLF SOLENT 

prim neatness around them. A diminutive servant, very 
old but very alert, with the nervous outward-staring eyes 
of a yellow-hammer, opened the door to him, and with- 
out demur ushered him into the drawing-room. 

He gave his name and waited. Almost immediately the 
little servant came back and begged him to take a chair 
and make himself comfortable. Miss Gault would see 
him in a few minutes. Those few minutes lengthened 
themselves into a quarter of an hour, and he had time to 
meditate on all the possibilities of this strange encounter. 
Miss Gault was the daughter of the late Headmaster of 
Ramsgard; and Wolf had heard his mother for twenty- 
five years utter airy sarcasms at her expense. It ap- 
peared she had had some tender relation with his father; 
had even attended William Solent's death-bed in the 
workhouse and seen him buried in the cemetery. 

Wolf sat on Miss Gault's sofa and set himself to won- 
der what this rival of his mother's would look like when 
she entered the room. The servant had not quite closed 
the door; and when fifteen minutes had elapsed, it 
opened silently; and Wolf, rising quickly to greet his 
hostess, found himself confronted by three cats, who 
walked gravely and gingerly, one after another, into the 
centre of the apartment. He made some awkward ges- 
ture of welcome to these animals, who resembled one 
another in shape, size, breed, and temperament in every- 
thing except colour, being respectively white, black, and 
grey; but instead of responding to his advances they 
each leapt into a separate chair, coiled themselves up, 
and surveyed, with half-closed languid eyes, the' door 
through which they had entered. He felt as if he were in 



"CHRIST! WE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 21 

the house of the Marquis of Carabas and that the three 
cats were three Lord Chamberlains. 

He sank back upon the sofa and stared morosely at 
each cat in turn. He decided that he liked the black one 
best and the grey one least. He decided that the white 
one was its mistress's favourite. 

He was occupied in this harmless manner when Selena 
Gault herself came in. He rose and advanced towards 
her with outstretched hand. But it was impossible for him 
to eliminate from his expression the shock that her ap- 
pearance gave him; and it did not lessen his surprise 
when she received his gesture with a formal bow and a 
stiff rejection of his hand. 

She was a tall, bony woman, with a face so strikingly 
ugly that it was impossible to avoid an immediate con- 
sciousness of its ugliness; and it was borne in upon him, 
as their conversation proceeded, that if only he had been 
able to contemplate her countenance with unconcern, she 
would have enjoyed one of the happiest moments of her 
life. 

She made a sign for him to resume his seat; but as 
she herself stood erect in front of the fire, which in 
spite of the warmth of the day still burned on the hearth, 
he preferred to remain on his feet. Like a flash he thought 
to himself, "Can my father have actually embraced this 
extraordinary person?" And then he thought to him- 
self: "The poor woman! Why, she can't be able to meet 
a single stranger anywhere without giving them a shock 
like this." But he had already begun speaking quietly 
and naturally to her, even while he was thinking these 
things. 



22 WOLF SOLENT 

"I knew you would know who I was," he said gently. 
"I've just been invited down here. I'm going to do some 
work I can't tell you quite what it is out at King's 
Barton. I'm going to drive over there this afternoon; but 
I thought I would come and see you first." 

While she listened to him, he noticed that she kept 
pulling her white woollen shawl tighter and tighter 
round her black silk dress. The effect of this was to give 
her the appearance of someone caught unawares in some 
sort of fancy costume some costume that rendered her 
ashamed and even ridiculous. 

"And so I just came straight in," he went on, begin- 
ning to feel a very odd sensation, a sensation as if he 
were addressing someone who was listening all the time 
in a kind of panic to a third person's voice "straight in 
through your little green door and between those hya- 
cinths." 

She still made no observation and he noticed that one 
marked quality of her ugliness was the dusky sallow- 
ness of her cheeks combined with the ghastly pallor of 
her upper lip, which projected from her face very much 
as certain funguses project from the brown bark of a 
dead tree. 

"I've decided that your favourite cat is the white one," 
he brought out after an uncomfortable pause. 

She did relax at this, and, moving to the chair occu- 
pied by the grey cat, took up the animal in her arms and 
sat down, holding it on her lap. 

"You're wrong, wrong, wrong!" she whispered 
hoarsely. "Isn't he wrong, Matthew?" 



"CHRIST! rVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 23 

The cat took not the least notice of this remark or of 
the fingers that caressed him; but it did impinge upon 
the consciousness of Miss Gault's visitor that this singular 
woman's hands were of a surprising beauty. 

"What are the names of the others?" Solent enquired. 

"The black one is Mark," replied the lady. 

"And the white one Luke?" he hazarded. 

She nodded; and then, quite suddenly, with an ef- 
fort as though a gust of wind had swept aside a mass 
of dead leaves, uncovering the fresh verdure below, her 
whole face relaxed into a smile of disarming sweetness. 

"I've never had a John," she said. "And I never will." 

Wolf Solent was quick enough to take advantage of 
this change of mood. He moved across to her, bent 
down over her chair, and scratched Matthew's head. "I 
thought I'd like to go over and see where the grave is." 
His words were low-pitched but without any emotional 
stress. His intonation could hardly have been different 
if he had said, "I think I'll go to the Abbey presently." 

Selena Gault gave a deep sigh, but it seemed to Solent 
like a sigh of relief rather than sadness. 

"Quite right, quite proper," he heard her murmur, 
wilh her head held low and her hands occupied in 
smoothing out the shawl beneath the body of the somno- 
lent cat. 

"The best thing you could do," she added. 

Since she said nothing more and persisted in keeping 
her head lowered a position which accentuated the 
enormity of her upper lip and the dark sallowness of her 
face Wolf began to feel as if he were an impertinent 



24 WOLF SOLENT 

intruder stroking the pet animal of some proud, secre- 
tive being whose peculiarity it was to prefer beasts to 
men. 

He straightened himself and squared his shoulders 
with a sigh. Then he moved across to the sofa and laid 
his hand on his hat and stick, which he was rather sur- 
prised to notice he had brought with him into the room. 

"I suppose," he said, as he turned round with these 
objects in the hand, "there'll be someone out there at the 
cemetery, some gardener or caretaker, who'll know where 
the grave is? I shouldn't like to get out there and not be 
able to find it. But I don't want to let this day pass 
without trying to find it." 

Selena Gault tossed the grey cat from her lap and 
rose to h'er feet. 

"I'll come with you," she said. 

She uttered the words quite quietly, but he noticed 
that she avoided looking him in the face. 

She stood for a lime staring out of the window, mo- 
tionless and abstracted. 

"If it would be a bother to you " he began. 

But she suddenly turned her distorted countenance full 
upon him. 

"Sit down, boy," she rapped out. "Do you think I'd let 
you go there alone, if there were fifty gardeners?" 

She stared at him for a second after this with a look 
that seemed to turn his bodily presence into the frame 
of a doorway through which she gazed into the remote 
past. 

"Sit down, sit down," she said more gently. "I'll be 
ready soon." 



"CHRIST! I'VE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 25 

The door had not closed behind her for many min- 
utes when the elderly servant entered, carrying a silver 
tray, upon which was a plate of Huntley and Palmer's 
oaten biscuits and a decanter of sherry. Wolf had poured 
himself out as many as three glasses of this excellent 
wine and had swallowed nearly all the biscuits before 
Miss Gault returned. She found him stroking Mark, the 
black cat. 

Her appearance in hat and cloak was just as peculiar 
as before, but more distinguished; and Wolf soon found 
out, when presently they passed the front of the Abbey, 
where several townspeople greeted her, that the power of 
her personality was fully appreciated in Ramsgard. 

Their way to the cemetery took them straight past the 
workhouse. This building was on the further side of 
the road; but Solent was unable to restrain an impulse 
to turn his head towards it. The edifice was rather less 
gloomy than such erections usually are, owing to the 
fact thai some indulgent authority had permitted its 
facade to be overgrown with Virginia creeper. 

He found himself reducing his pace so that he might 
familiarize himself with every aspect of that heavy, som- 
bre building behind iron gates. As he lingered he be- 
came suddenly aware that his companion had slipped 
her gloved hand upon his arm. This natural gesture, 
instead of pleasing him or rousing his sympathy, made 
him feel curiously irritable. He quickened his pace; 
and her hand fell away so quickly that he might easily 
have supposed that light pressure to have been a pure 
accident. 

They walked side by side now, with such swinging 



26 WOLF SOLENT 

steps that it was not long before they were beyond the 
houses and out into what was almost open country. It 
annoyed him that she remained so silent. Did she sup- 
pose he had come to see his father's grave in a vein of 
sentimental commiseration? 

"What's that?" he exclaimed, pointing to a ram- 
shackle group of sheds that seemed fenced off from the 
road with some unnatural and sinister precaution. 

Selena Gault's reply made his touchiness seem cap- 
tious and misplaced. 

"Can't you see what that is, boy? It's the slaughter- 
house! You've only to take the shadiest, quietest road 
to find 'em in any town!" 

They w,ere soon skirting the edge of the neat oak 
palings that ran along the leafy purlieus of Ramsgard 
Cemetery. 

"I let them bury him at the pauper's end," she re- 
marked gravely. "It's nearer. It's quieter. It's hardly 
ever disturbed. This is the way I generally go in." With 
a sly, quick glance up and down the road, a glance that 
gave an emphasis to the whites of her eyes such as made 
her companion think of a crafty dray-horse edging into 
a field of clover, Miss Gault stooped down and propelled 
herself under a rough obstruction that blocked a gap 
in the oak palings. 

Solent followed her, confused, a little surly, but no 
longer hostile. 

She did not wait for him, but made her way with 
long, rapid strides to the extreme corner of the enclosure. 
Her swinging arms, her gaunt figure, her erratic gait, 



"CHRIST! PVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 27 

set the man's mind thinking once more of various non- 
human animals. 

He came up to her just as she reached her goal. 
"William Solent," he read, on the upright slab of sand- 
stone; and then, under the date of birth and death, the 
words, "Mors est mihi vita." 

Wolf had no difficulty in recognizing the particular 
hyacinths that stood in an earthenware pot. "She must 
have come here for twenty-five years!" he thought, with 
a gasp of astonishment; and he gave her a hurried, fur- 
tive, prying look from under his bushy eyebrows. 

She certainly did nothing on this occasion to cause 
him any discomfort. She just muttered in quite a con- 
ventional tone, "I never like to see plantains in the 
grass"; and bending down, she proceeded to pull up cer- 
tain small weeds, making a little pile of them behind 
the headstone. 

Swaying thus above the mound and scrabbling with 
outstretched arms among the grass-blades, her figure in 
the misty afternoon sunshine took on, as Wolf stood 
there, a kind of portentous unreality. There was some- 
thing outlandish in the whole scene, something mon- 
strous and bizarre that destroyed all ordinary pathos. 
Twenty-five years? If she had come here regularly for 
all that time, how could there be any "plantains," or 
any clover, or any moss either, left upon his father's 
grave? He was so conscious of the personality of this 
woman, so amazed at a tenacity of feeling that seemed to 
pass all limits of what was due, that his own sensibility 
became hard and rigid. 



28 WOLF SOLENT 

But though his emotions were cold, his imagination 
worked freely. The few feet of Dorsetshire clay, the 
half-inch of brittle West Country elm-wood, that sepa- 
rated him from the up-turned skull of his begetter, were 
like so much transparent glass. He looked down into 
William Solent's empty eye-sockets, and the empty eye- 
sockets looked back at him. Steadily, patiently, indif- 
ferently they looked back; and between the head with- 
out a nose looking up and the head with so prominent a 
nose looking down there passed a sardonic wordless 
dialogue. "So be it," the son said to himself. "I won't 
forget. Whether there are plantains or whether there 
aren't plantains, the universe shan't fool me." "Fool 
me; fool me," echoed the fleshless skull from below. 

"There!" sighed Selena Gault, rising to her natural 
perpendicular position. "There ! There won't be any more 
of them for a fortnight. Shall we go back now, boy?" 

When they were once more in the road, Miss Gault 
became a little more talkative. 

"You're not like him, of course not in any way. He 
really was uncommonly handsome. Not that that had any 
weight with me. But it had with some. It had with Mr. 
Urquhart!" She paused and glanced almost mischiev- 
ously at her companion. "I'm sure I don't know," she 
remarked, with a funny little laugh, "what Mr. Urquhart 
will make of you!" 

"The idea seems to be," said Wolf gravely, while his 
estimate of his new friend's perspicacity became more 
respectful, "that I should help him with some historical 
researches. It appears he is writing a 'History of Dor- 



"CHRIST! WE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 29 

"History of fiddlestick!" snapped the lady. And then 
in a more amiable tone, "But he's no idiot. He has read 
a little. You'll enjoy going through his library." 

Wolf felt himself experiencing a rather cowardly hope 
that his companion would pass the slaughter-house this 
time without comment. The hope was not fulfilled. 

"I suppose you eat them?" she asked in a hoarse 
whisper; and Wolf, turning towards her a startled face, 
was struck by an expression of actual animal fear upon 
her extraordinary physiognomy. But she did not linger; 
and it was not lorig before they were once more oppo- 
site the workhouse. 

"Do you know what he said when he was dying?" she 
began suddenly. "He didn't say it particularly to me. I 
just happened to be there. He said it to everyone in gen- 
eral. He said, 'Christ! I've enjoyed my life!' He used the 
word 'Christ' just in that way, as an exclamation. There 
was a young clergyman there, straight down from Cam- 
bridge, an athlete of some sort; and when your father 
cried out 'Christ!' like that and he was dead the next 
second I hoard him mutter, 'Good for you, Sir!' as if 
it had been a fine hit at a cricket-match." 

Wolf would have been entirely responsive now if Miss 
Gault had touched his arm or even taken his arm, but 
she walked forward without making any sign. 

"I expect your mother has abused me pretty thor- 
oughly to you since you were a child," she said presently. 
"Ann and I were never fond of each other. We were ene- 
mies even before your father came. She cut me out, of 
course, at every turn; but that didn't bring her round! 
She couldn't forgive me for being the headmaster's 



30 WOLF SOLENT 

daughter. YouVe no idea of the savage jealousies that 
go on in a place like this. But wherevej we were we 
should have haled each other. Ann is flippant where I'm 
serious, and I'm flippant where Ann is serious." 

Wolf tried in vain to imagine on what occasions Miss 
Gault would display flippancy, but he knew well enough 
what that word meant in regard to his mother. He was 
seized at that moment with an irresistible temptation to 
reveal to this woman the picture of her character with 
which he had been regaled for the last twenty-five years. 
It was a picture so extraordinarily different from the 
reality, that it made him wonder if all women, whether 
flippant or otherwise, were personal to the point of in- 
sanity in their judgments of one another. What his 
mother had told him was not even a caricature of Selena 
Gault. It referred to another person altogether. 

"My mother has a lot of friends in town," he began, 
rather lamely. Miss Gault cut him short. 

"Of course she has! She's a brave, high-spirited, am- 
bitious woman. Of course she has!" And then, in a low, 
meditative voice that seemed to float wistfully over the 
years, "She was very much in love with your father." 

This last remark, coming at the moment when the 
Abbey clock above their heads struck four, produced 
considerable bewilderment in Wolf's mind. The idea of 
his estranged parents having been "in love" with each 
other made him feel curiously in the cold, and strangely 
alien to both of them. In some obscure way he felt as 
if Selena Gault were practising an indecent treachery, 
but a treachery so subtle that he couldn't lay his finger 
upon it! 



"CHRIST! rVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 31 

"Let's go in here for a minute!" he said. "And then I 
must keep my appointment with Mr. Otter." 

They entered the great nave of the Abbey-church and 
sat down. The high, cool, vaulted roof, with its famous 
fan-tracery, seemed to offer itself to his mind as if it 
were some "branch-charmed" vista of verdurous silence, 
along which his spirit might drift and float at large, a 
leaf among leaves! 

There was a faint greenish mist in that high roof, the 
effect of some cavernous contrast with the mellow 
warmth of the horizontal sun pouring through the col- 
oured windows below; and into that world of undulat- 
ing carving and greenish dimness, Wolf now permitted 
his mind to wander, till he began to feel once again that 
mysterious sensation which he called his "mythology." 

He felt free of his mother, and yet tender and in- 
dulgent towards her. He felt bound up in some strange 
affiliation with that skeleton in the cemetery. He felt in 
whimsical and easy harmony with the queer lady seated 
by his side. The only thing that troubled him at all just 
then was a faint doubt as to what effect this return to 
the land of his birth would have upon his furtive, pri- 
vate, hidden existence. Would he be crafty enough to 
keep that secretive life-illusion out of the reach of dan- 
ger? Would his inner world of hushed Cimmerian ecsta- 
sies remain uninvaded by these Otters and Urquharts? 

He felt as though he were tightening his muscles for 
a plunge into very treacherous waters. All manner of 
unknown voices seemed calling to him out of this warm 
Spring air; mocking voices, beguiling voices, insidious 
voices voices that threatened unguessed-at disturbances 



32 WOLF SOLENT 

to that underground life of his which was like a cherished 
vice. It was not as though he heard the tones of these 
voices so that he could have recognized them again. It 
was as though a wavering crowd of featureless human 
figures on the further side of some thick opaque lattice- 
work were conferring together in conspiring awareness 
of his immediate appearance among them! 

The atmosphere was cooler when they came out of the 
church. Its taste was the taste of an air that has been 
blown over leagues and leagues of green stalks full of 
chilly sap. It made Solent think of water-buttercups in 
windy ponds, and the splash of moor-hens over dark 
gurgling weirs. 

He parted from his companion by a grotesque little 
statue under the lime-trees representing the debonair an- 
cestor of the Lovelaces whose name, though intimately 
associated with Ramsgard, had slipped into something 
legendary and remote. Selena Gault gave him her hand 
with a stately inclination of her unlovely head. 

"You'll come in and see me and my cats before long 
and tell me your impressions of all those people?" 

"I certainly will, Miss Gault," he answered. "You've 
been very good to me." 

"Tut, tut, boy! Good is not the word! When I come 
to think of it, standing like that with your hat off, you 
have a kind of look " 

"That's under your influence, Miss Gault," he hur- 
riedly said; and they took their separate ways. 

There was far less embarrassment for Wolf in his 
encounter with Mr. Darnley Otter than he had expected. 
They were the only men in that massive old-world 



"CHRIST! rVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 33 

sitting-room, decorated with hunting-scenes and large 
solemn prints of Conservative statesmen, and they found 
it easy and natural to sit down opposite each other at 
a round table and to enjoy an excellent tea. Wolf was 
hungry. The bread-and-butter was fresh and plentiful. 
The solidity of the teapot was matched by the thinness 
of the cups; and the waiter, who seemed to know Mr. 
Otter well, treated them both with a dignified obsequious- 
ness which had about it the mellow beauty of centuries 
of feudal service. 

He was a clean-shaven man, this waiter, with an aris- 
tocratic stoop and a face that resembled that of Lord 
Shaftesbury, the great philanthropist; and Wolf felt an 
obscure longing to sit opposite him in his own snug par- 
lour wherever that was and draw out of him the hid- 
den sources of that superb respectfulness to be the 
object of which, even for a brief hour's tea-drinking, was 
to be reconciled not only to oneself but also in some 
curious way to the whole human race ! 

"We haven't seen Mr. Urquhart down here lately," the 
waiter was saying to Wolf's new acquaintance. "His 
health keeps up, I hope, Sir?" 

"Perfectly," responded Mr. Otter. "Perfectly, Stal- 
bridge. I hope you yourself are all right, Stalbridge?" 

Wolf had never seen a physical human movement 
more expressive, more adjusted, more appropriate, than 
the gesture with which the elderly servant balanced the 
back of his hand against the edge of their table and 
leaned forward to reply to this personal question. He no- 
ticed this gesture all the more vividly because of a curi- 
ously shaped white scar that crossed the back of the 



34 WOLF SOLENT 

man's hand. But he now hecame aware of something 
else about this waiter something that surprised and 
rather disturbed him. The fellow's countenance did not 
only remind him of Lord Shaftesbury. It reminded him 
of that face by the Waterloo steps! 

"I've nothing to complain of, Sir, thank you Sir, since 
I settled that little legal trouble of mine. It's the mind, 
Sir, that keeps us up; and except for the malice and 
mischief that comes to all, I've no grievance against the 
Almighty." 

The air of courteous magnanimity with which the old 
waiter exonerated Providence made Wolf feel ashamed 
of every peevishness he had ever indulged. But why did 
he make him think of that Waterloo-steps face? 

When Mr. Stalbridge had left them, to look after some 
other guests, both the men, as they finished their tea 
and lit their cigarettes, began to feel more comfortable 
and reassured in their attitude to each other. 

Darnley Otter was in every respect more of a classi- 
fied "gentleman" than Solent. He had a trim, pointed, 
Van Dyck beard of a light-chestnut colour. His finger- 
nails were exquisitely clean. His necktie, of a dark-blue 
shade, had evidently been very carefully chosen. His 
grey tweed suit, neither too faded nor too new, fitted 
his slender figure to a nicety. His features were sharply- 
cut and very delicately moulded, his hands thin and 
firm and nervous. When he smiled, his rather grave 
countenance wrinkled itself into a thousand amiable 
wrinkles; but he very rarely smiled, and for some rea- 
son it was impossible for Solent to imagine him laugh- 
ing. One facial trick he had which Wolf found a little 



"CHRIST! I'VE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 35 

disconcerting since his own method was to stare so very 
steadily from under his bushy eyebrows a trick of 
hanging his head and letting his eyelids droop over his 
eyes as he talked. This habit was so constant with him 
that it wasn't until the dialogue with the waiter occurred 
that Wolf realized what his eyes were like. They were 
of a tint that Wolf had never seen before in any human 
face. They were like the blue markings upon the sides of 
freshly caught mackerel. 

But what struck Wolf most deeply was not the colour 
of Mr. Otter's eyes. It was their look. He had never in 
the whole course of his life seen anything so harassed, 
so anxious, as the expression in those eyes, when their 
owner was unable any longer to avoid giving a direct 
glance. Nor was it just simply that the man was of a 
worrying turn of mind. The curious thing about the anx- 
iety in Mr. Otter's eyes was that it was unnatural. There 
was a sort of puzzled surprise in it, a sort of indignant 
moral bewilderment, quite different from any constitu- 
tional nervousness. His expression seemed to protest 
against something that had been inflicted on him, some- 
thing unexpected, something that struck his natural ac- 
ceptance of life as both monstrous and inexplicable. 

It was when he spoke to the waiter that this unhappy 
expression was caught most off-guard, and Wolf ex- 
plained this to himself on the theory that the waiter's 
abysmal tact unconsciously relieved his interlocutor from 
the strain of habitual reticence. 

Their meal once over, it did not take them long to 
get mounted, with all Wolf Solent's luggage, in Mr. 
Urquhart's dog-cart. That afternoon's drive from Rams- 



36 WOLF SOLENT 

gard to King's Barton was a memorable event in Wolf's 
life. He had come already to feel a definite attraction to- 
ward this scrupulously-dressed, punctilious gentleman 
with the troubled mackerel-dark eyes; and as they sat 
side by side in that dog-cart, jogging leisurely along 
behind an ancient dapple-grey horse, he made up his 
mind that if it was to be in Darnlcy Otter's company 
that his free hours were to pass, they would pass very 
harmoniously indeed. 

The evening itself, through which they drove, follow- 
ing a road parallel to and a little to the right of that 
one which had ended with the cemetery, was beautiful 
with an exceptional kind of beauty. It was one of those 
Spring evenings which are neither golden from the direct 
rays of the sinking sun, nor opalescent from their in- 
direct diffused reflection. A chilly wind had arisen, cover- 
ing the western sky, into which they were driving, with 
a thick bank of clouds. The result of this complete ex- 
tinction of the sunset was that the world became a world 
in which every green thing upon its surface received a 
fivefold addition to its greenness. It was as if an enor- 
mous green tidal wave, composed of a substance more 
translucent than water, had flowed over the whole earth; 
or rather as if some diaphanous essence of all the green- 
ness created by long days of rain had evaporated during 
this one noon, only to fall down, with the approach of 
twilight, in a cold, dark, emerald-coloured dew. The road 
they thus followed, heading for that rain-heavy western 
horizon, was a road that ran along the southern slope of 
an arable upland an upland that lay midway between 
the pastoral Dorset valley which was terminated by the 



"CHRIST! rVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 37 

hills and woods of High Stoy and the yet wider Somer- 
setshire valley that spread away into the marshes of 
Sedgemoor. 

Solent learned from a few courteous but very abrupt 
explanations interjected by his companions, that the 
only other occupants of the house to which they were 
proceeding were Darnley's elder brother, Jason, and his 
mother, Mrs. Otter. He also gathered that Darnley him- 
self, except on Saturdays and Sundays, worked as a clas- 
sical under-master in a small grammar-school in Black- 
sod. By one means and another Wolf was quick at 
such surmises he obtained an impression that this work 
in Blacksod was anything but congenial to his reserved 
companion. He also began to divine, though certainly 
with no help from his well-bred friend, that these scho- 
lastic activities of his were almost the sole financial sup- 
port of the family at Pond Cottage. 

"I do wish I could persuade you," Solent began, when 
they were still some two and a half miles from their 
destination, "to give me some sort of notion of what 
Mr. Urquhart really expects from me. I've never made 
any historical researches in my life. I've only compiled 
wretched summaries from books that everyone can get. 
What will he want me to do? Go searching round in 
parish-registers and so on?" 

The driver's gaze, directed obstinately to the grey tail 
of their slow-moving horse, remained unresponsive to 
the querulousness of this appeal. 

"I have a notion, Solent," he remarked, "that you'll 
get light on a great many things as soon as you've seen 
Mr. Urquhart." 



30 WOLF SOLENT 

Wolf pulled down the corners of his mouth and lifted 
his thick eyebrows. 

"The devil!" he thought. "That's just about what my 
friend Miss Gault hinted." 

He raised his voice and gave it a more serious tone. 

"Tell me, Otter, is Mr. Urquhart what you might call 
eccentric queer, in fact?" 

Darnley did turn his bearded profile at this. "That 
depends," he said, "what you mean by 'queer.' I've al- 
ways found him very civil. My brother can't bear the 
sight of him." 

Wolf made his favourite grimace again at this. 

"I hope your brother will approve of me," he said. 
"I confess I begin to be a bit frightened." 

"Jason' is a poet," remarked Mr. Otter gravely, and his 
tone had enough of a rebuke in it to rouse a flicker of 
malice in his companion. 

"I hope Mr. Urquhart isn't a poet too," he said. 

Mr. Otter took no notice of this retort except to fall 
into a deeper silence than ever; and Wolf's attention 
reverted to what he could see of the famous Vale of 
Blackmore. Every time the hedge grew low, as they 
jogged along, every time a gate or a gap interrupted its 
green undulating rampart, he caught a glimpse of that 
great valley, gathering the twilight about it as a dying 
god might gather to his heart the cold, wet ashes of his 
last holocaust. 

More and more did the feeling grow upon him that he 
was entering into a new world where he must leave be- 
hind the customs, the grooves, the habits of fifteen long 



"CHRIST! WE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 39 

years of his life. "There's one thing," he thought to him- 
self, while a sudden chilliness struck his face as their 
road drew nearer the course of the river, "that I'll never 
give up ... not even for the sake of the slenderest 
'peeled willow-wand' in Dorset." As this thought crossed 
his mind he actually tightened his two bony hands 
tenaciously over his legs just above his knees, as if he 
were fortifying himself against some unknown threat to 
his treasured vice. And then in a kind of self-protective 
reassembling of his memories, as if by the erection of a 
great barrier of mental earthworks he could ward off any 
attack upon his secret, he set himself to recall certain 
notable landmarks among his experiences of the world 
up to the hour of this exciting plunge into the unknown. 

He recalled various agitating and shameful scenes 
between his high-spirited mother and his drifting un- 
scrupulous father. He summoned up, as opposed to these, 
his own delicious memories of long, irresponsible holi- 
days, lovely uninterrupted weeks of idleness, by the sea 
at Weymouth, when he read so many thrilling books in 
the sunlit bow-window at Brunswick Terrace. How 
clearly he could see now the Jubilee clock on the Es- 
planade, the pompous statue of George the Third, the 
White Nore, the White Horse, the wave-washed outline 
of Portland breakwater! How he could recall his child- 
ish preference for the great shimmering expanse of wet 
sand, out beyond the bathing-machines, over the hot, 
dry sand under the sea-wall, where the donkeys stood 
and Punch and Judy was played! 

"I am within twenty miles of Weymouth here," he 



40 WOLF SOLENT 

thought. "That's where my real life began . . . that's the 
place I love ... in spite of its lack of hedges and 
trees!" 

Then he recalled his tedious uninspired youth in Lon- 
don, the hateful day-school, the hateful overcrowded 
college, the interminable routine of his ten years of 
teaching. "A double life! A double life!" he muttered 
under his breath, staring at the grey rump of Mr. Urqu- 
hart's nag, as it swayed before him, and moving his own 
body a little forward, as he lightened his grip still more 
fiercely upon his own bony thighs. 

Was he going to be plunged now into another world 
of commonplace tedium, full of the same flat, conven- 
tional ambitions, the same sickening clevernesses? It 
couldn't Be so! It couldn't ... it couldn't . . . with 
this enchanted springtime stirring in all these leaves and 
grasses. . . . 

What a country this was! 

To his right, as they drove along, the ground sloped 
upwards cornfield after cornfield of young green shoots 
to the great main ridge between Dorset and Somerset, 
along which only a mile or so away, his companion 
told him lay the main highway, famous in West Coun- 
try history, between Ramsgard and Blacksod, and also 
between so Mr. Otter assured him Salisbury and 
Exeter ! 

To his left the Vale of Blackmore beckoned to him 
out of its meadows meadows that were full of faint 
grassy odours which carried a vague taste of river-mud 
in their savour because of the nearness of the banks of 
the Lunt. From Shaftesbury. on the north, to the isolated 



"CHRIST! I'VE HAD A HAPPY LIFE!" 41 

eminence of Melbury Bub, to the south, that valley 
stretched away, whispering, so it seemed, some inex- 
plicable prophetic greeting to its returned native-born. 

As he listened to the noise of the horse's hooves 
steadily clicking, clicking, clicking, with every now and 
then a bluish spark rising in the dusk of the road, as iron 
struck against flint; as he watched the horizon in front 
of him grow each moment more fluid, more wavering; 
as he saw detached fragments of the earth's surface 
hill-curves, copses, far-away fields and hedges blend 
with fragments of cloud and fragments of cloudless 
space, it came over him with a mounting confidence that 
this wonderful country must surely deepen, intensify, en- 
rich his furtive inner life, rather than threaten or de- 
stroy it. 

Thus clutching his legs as if to assure himself of his 
own identity, thus leaning eagerly forward by his com- 
panion's side, his eyebrows contracted into a fixed frown 
and his nostrils twitching, Wolf felt the familiar mystic 
sensation surging up even now from its hidden retreat. 
Up, up it rose, like some great moonlight-coloured fish 
from fathomless watery depths, like some wide-winged 
marsh-bird from dark untraverscd pools ! The airs of this 
new world that met its rising were full of the coolness of 
mosses, full of the faint unsheathing of fern-fronds. 
Whatever this mysterious emotion was, it leaped forward 
now towards the new element as if conscious that it 
carried with it a power as formidable, as incalculable, as 
anything that it could encounter there. 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 



o THIS IS TO BE YOUR ROOM," SAID MRS. OTTER. "l 

knew you'd want to see it at once; as you have to dress, 
of course, for dining at the House? It's not large, but I 
think it's rather comfortable. My son Jason said only 
just now that he felt quite envious of it. His own room 
is just opposite, looking on the back garden, as yours 
does on the front. I think we might show him Jason's 
room, don't you, Darnley? It's so very characteristic! 
At least we try to keep it so, don't we, Darnley? Darn- 
ley and I do it ourselves, when he's out." Her voice, 
as the two men stood in the doorway staring at So- 
lent's pieces of shabby luggage, which they had just 
carried in, sank into a confidential whisper. "He's out 
now," she added. They both moved aside as she pro- 
ceeded to make her way across the small passage. 
"There!" she exclaimed, opening a door; and Wolf 
peered into complete and rather stuffy darkness. "There! 
Perhaps you have a match, Darnley?" 

Darnley obediently struck a match and proceeded to 
set alight two ornate candles that stood on a chest of 
drawers. The whole look of the chamber thus revealed, 
was detestable to the visitor. 

Above the bed hung an enormous Arundel print of 
a richly gilded picture by Benozzo Gozzoli; and above 
the fireplace, where a few red coals still smouldered, 
was a morbidly sanctimonious Holy Family by Filip- 
pino Lippi. 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 43 

"I'd better open the window a little, mother, hadn't 
I?" said Darnley, moving across the room. 

"No no, dear!" cried the lady hurriedly. "He feels 
the draught so terribly when he's indoors. It's only ciga- 
rette-smoke and a little incense," she added, turning 
to Wolf. "He finds incense refreshing. We order it from 
the Stores. Darnley and I don't care for it. So a little 
lasts a long time." 

"He must have gone to Blacksod again," remarked 
the son grimly, glancing at his watch and looking very 
significantly at his mother. 

"If he has, I'm sure I hope they'll be nicer to him than 
they were last time," murmured the lady. 

"At the Three Peewits?" retorted her son drily. "Too 
nice, I daresay! I wish he'd stick to Farmer's Rest." 

"We are referring to the inns in this neighbourhood 
where my son meets his friends," remarked the mother; 
and Wolf, contemplating the thin, peaked face, the 
smooth, high forehead, the neatly brushed pale hair, 
the nun-like dress of the little woman, felt ashamed of 
the first rush of inconsiderate contempt that her man- 
ner of speech had provoked in him. 

"There's something funny about all this," he thought 
to himself. "I'll be interested to see this confounded 
incense-burner." 

Left to himself to unpack his things, he looked round 
with anxious concern at the room that was to be his 
base of operations, his secret fox's hole, for so pro- 
longed a time. There was a Leighton over the mantel- 
piece, and a huge Alma-Tadema between the two win- 
dows; and he divined at once that the spare-bedroom 



44 WOLF SOLENT 

was used as a depository by this household for mid- 
Viclorian works of art. 

He leaned out of one of the windows. A sharp scent 
of jonquils was wafted up from some flower-bed below; 
but the night was so dark he could see nothing except 
a row of what looked like poplar-trees and a clump of 
thick bushes. 

He quickly unpacked his clothes and put them away 
in easily-opening, agreeably-papered drawers. There was 
a vase of rust-tinted polyanthuses on the dressing-table; 
and he thought to himself, "The poet's mother knows 
how to manage things!" 

He decided at first to confine himself to a dinner- 
jacket; but realizing that he had only one pair of black 
trousers, and that these went best with the tail-coat, he 
changed his mind and put on full evening-dress. 

As he finally lied his white tie into a bow at the small 
mahogany-framed looking-glass, he could not help think- 
ing of the many unknown events that would occupy his 
thoughts as he stood just there in future days events 
that were only now so many airy images, floating, drift- 
ing, upon the sea of the unborn. 

"How will Mr. Urquhart receive me?" his thoughts 
ran on. "This brother of Otter's doesn't like him; but 
that's nothing. . . . I'll deal with these awful pictures 
later!" And he carefully extinguished his candles and 
stepped out on the landing. 

The little dining-room of Pond Cottage faced the 
drawing-room at the foot of the stairs; and when he 
stood in the hall, hesitating over which room to enter, 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 45 

he was surprised to find himself beckoned to, eagerly 
and surreptitiously, by a bent old woman in a blue 
apron, laying the dinner. He crossed the threshold in 
answer to this appeal. 

"I know'd yer," the crone whispered. "I know'd 'twas 
none o' they, soon as I did hear yer feet. Looksy heres 
Mister! Master Darnley'll want to go up to Squire's with 
'ee. Don't 'ee let 'un go! That's what I've got to say 
to 'ee. Don't 'ee let 'un go! 'Tis no walk up to House. 
'Tis straight along Pond Lane and down Lenty, and 
there 'a be! Just 'ee go off now, quiet-like, afore they 
be corned downstairs. I'll certify to Missus that I telled 
'ee the way to House. Don't 'ee stand staring at a person 
toad-struck and pondering! Off with 'ee now! Be an 
angel of a sweet young gent! There! Don't 'ee wait a 
minute. They'll be down, afore 'ee can holler yer own 
name. Out wi' 'ee, and God bless 'ee. Straight to the 
end of Pond, and then down Lenty!" 

It was the nature of Wolf Solent, when other things 
were equal, to be easy, flexible, obliging. So without 
asking any questions he silently and expeditiously 
obeyed the old servant. He snatched up his hat and his 
overcoat, and vanished into the darkness of the night. 

"I suppose this is Pond Lane," he said to himself, as 
he made his way in the direction pointed out by the old 
woman. "But if it isn't, I can't help it. They're all on 
the jump about that chap's coming home. She wanted 
to keep Otter in the house to deal with the beggar." 

Fortune favoured him more than he might have ex- 
pected. Just where Pond Lane turned into Lenty, he met 



46 WOLF SOLENT 

a group of children, and under their direction he had 
no difficulty in finding the drive-entrance to King's Bar- 
ton Manor. 

It was not a long drive and it did not lead to a big 
house. Built in the reign of James the First, Barton 
Manor had always remained a small and unimportant 
dwelling. Its chief glory was its large and rambling gar- 
den a garden that needed more hands to keep it in order 
than the present owner was able to afford. 

And, standing on the top of the weather-stained, lichen- 
spotted stone steps, after he had rung the bell, Wolf 
Solent had time, before anyone answered his ring, to 
imbibe something of the beauty of this new surround- 
ing. The sky had cleared a little, and from a few open 
spaces, crorwded with small faint stars, a pallid lu- 
minosity revealed the outlines of several wide, velvety 
lawns, intersected by box-hedges, themselves divided by 
stone-flagged paths. Wolf could see at one end of these 
lawns a long, high yew-hedge, looking in that uncertain 
light so mysterious and ill-omened that it was easy to 
imagine that on the further side of it all manner of 
phantasmal figures moved, ready to vanish at cock- 
crow! 

For one moment he had a queer sensation that that 
wretched human face he had seen on the Waterloo steps 
hung there there also, between the branches of a tall 
obscure tree that grew at the end of that yew-hedge. But 
even as he looked, the face faded; and instead of it, so 
wrought-upon were his nerves at that moment, there ap- 
peared to him the worried, anxious, mackerel-coloured 
eyes of Darnley Otter. 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 47 

He was disturbed in these fancies by the opening of 
the carved Jacobean door. The man-servant who admitted 
him was, to his surprise, dressed in rough working- 
clothes. He was an extremely powerful man, and had a 
swarthy, gipsy-like complexion and coal-black hair. 

"Excuse me, Sir," he said with a melancholy smile, 
as he took the visitor's coat and laid it on a great oak 
chest that stood in the hall. "Excuse me, Mr. Solent, but 
I've been working till a few minutes ago in the stable. 
He never likes me to apologize to gentlemen who come; 
but that's the way I am; and I hope you'll excuse me, 
Sir." 

Even at the very moment he was muttering an appro- 
priate reply to this somewhat unusual greeting, and al- 
lowing his thoughts, below the surface of his words, 
to reflect how oddly the servants in King's Barton be- 
haved, Wolf became aware of the approach of an im- 
posing personage coming down the long hallway towards 
them. This figure, limping very much and leaning upon 
a stick, was in evening-dress; and as he approached he 
muttered,, over and over again, in a low, soft, satiny 
voice: "What's this I hear, eh? What's this I hear, eh? 
What's this I hear, eh?" 

The tall coachman, or gardener, or whatever he was, 
did not wait for his master's arrival. With one quick 
glance at Solent and a final "Excuse me, Sir!" he van- 
ished through a side-door, leaving Wolf to face his 
host without any official announcement. 

"Mr. Solent? Very good. Mr. Wolf Solent? Very, very 
good. You received my letter and you came at once? 
Excellent. Very, very good." 



48 WOLF SOLENT 

Uttering these words in the same low voice that made 
Wolf think of the unrolling of some great, rich bundle 
of Chinese silk, he offered his left hand to his visitor 
and kept his right slill leaning upon the handle of the 
stick that supported him. 

The impression Wolf got from Mr. Urquhart's face 
was extremely complicated. Heavy eyelids, and pendu- 
lous, baggy foldings below the eyes, made one aspect of 
it. Greenish-blackness in the eyes themselves, and some- 
thing profoundly suspicious in their intense question- 
ing gaze, made another. An air of agitated restlessness, 
amounting to something that might have been described 
as a hunted look, made yet a third. The features of 
the face, taken in their general outlines, were massive 
and refined. It was in the expression that flitted across 
them that Wolf detected something that puzzled and 
perturbed him. One thing was certain. Both Mr. Urqu- 
hart's head and Mr. Urquhart's stomach were un- 
naturally large far too large for his feeble legs. His 
hair, which was almost as black as that of his man- 
servant, caused Wolf to wonder whether or not he wore 
a wig. 

Dropping his visitor's hand, he suddenly stood stock- 
still, in the attitude of one who listens. Wolf had no 
idea whether he was arrested by sounds in the garden 
outside or sounds in the kitchen inside. He himself heard 
nothing but the ticking of the hall-clock. 

Presently the squire spoke again. "They didn't come 
with you then? They didn't bring you to the door then?" 
He spoke with what Wolf fancied was a tone of nervous 
relief. 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 49 

"I found my way very easily," was all the visitor could 
reply. 

"What's that? You came alone? They let you come 
alone?" The man gave him a quick, suspicious glance, 
and limped a step or two towards the front-door. Wolf 
received an impression that he wasn't believed, and that 
Mr. Urquhart thought that, if the door were opened and 
he called loud enough, someone would respond at once 
out of the darkness. 

"Didn't Darnley come any of the way with you?" This 
was said with such a querulous, suspicious accent that 
Wolf looked him straight in the face. 

"They didn't even know I had left the house," he 
remarked sternly. 

Mr. Urquhart glanced at the door through which the 
servant had vanished. 

"I told him to lay three places," he remarked. "I made 
sure they wouldn't let you come alone." 

Wolf, at this, lifted one of his thick eyebrows; and a 
flicker of a smile crossed his mouth. 

"Would you like me to run over and fetch him?" he 
said. 

"What's that, eh? Fetch him? Did you say fetch him? 
Of course not! Come, come. Let's go in. Monk will have 
everything ready by now. Come along. This is the way." 

He led his visitor down the hall and into a small oak- 
panelled room. The table was laid for three; and no 
sooner were they seated, than Roger Monk, re-garbed as 
if by magic in a plain dark suit, and accompanied by a 
young maid in cap and apron, brought in two steaming 
soup-plates. The dinner that followed was an excep- 



50 WOLF SOLENT 

tionally good one, and so also was the wine. Both host 
and guest drank quite freely; so that by the time the 
servants left them to their own devices, there had emerged 
not only a fairly complete understanding as to the char- 
acter of the work which Wolf was to undertake in that 
remarkable establishment, but also a certain rapport be- 
tween their personalities. 

Staring contentedly at a large monumental landscape 
by Gainsborough, where what might have been called 
the spiritual idea of a Country Road lost itself between 
avenues of park-like trees and vistas of mysterious 
terrace-walks, Wolf began to experience, as he sipped his 
port wine and listened to his host's mellow discourse, a 
more delicious sense of actual physical well-being than 
he had known for many a long year. 

He soon discovered that he was to labour at his par- 
ticular share of their grandiose enterprise in a window- 
seat of the big library of the house, while Mr. Urquhart 
pursued independent researches in a room he called 
"the study." This was excellent news to the new secretary. 
Very vividly he conjured up an image of that window- 
seat, ensconced behind mul lion-panes of armorial glass, 
and opening upon an umbrageous vista resembling that 
picture by Gainsborough! 

"Our history will be an entirely new genre" Mr. Ur- 
quhart was saying. "What I want to do is to isolate the 
particular portion of the earth's surface called 'Dorset'; 
as if it were possible to decipher there a palimpsest of 
successive strata, one inscribed below anolher, of human 
impression. Such impressions are forever being made and 
forever being obliterated in the ebb and flow of events; 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 51 

and the chronicle of them should be continuous, not 
episodic." He paused in his discourse to light a ciga- 
rette; which, when it was lit, he waved to and fro, form- 
ing curves and squares and patterns. His hand holding 
the cigarette was white and plump, like the hand of a 
priest; and, as he wrote on the air, a trail of filmy 
smoke followed the movements of his arm. 

"Of course, a genuine continuity," he went on, "would 
occupy several lifetimes in the telling of it. What's to be 
done then, eh? D'ye see the problem? Eh? What's to be 
done?" 

Solent indicated as well as he could by discreet facial 
signs that he did see the problem, but left its solution 
to the profound intelligence in front of him. 

Mr. Urquhart proceeded. "We must select, my friend. 
We must select. All history lies in selection. We can't 
put in everything. We must put in only what's got pith 
and sap and salt. Things like adulteries, murders, and 
fornications." 

"Are we to have any method of selection?" Wolf en- 
quired. 

Mr. Urquhart chuckled. "Do you know what I've 
thought?" he said. "I've thought that I'd like to get the 
sort of perspective on human occurrences that the bed- 
posts in brothels must come to possess and the counters 
of bar-rooms and the butlers' pantries in old houses 
and the muddy ditches in long-frequented lovers' lanes." 

"It's in fact a sort of Rabelaisian chronicle you wish 
to write?" threw in Wolf. 

Mr. Urquhart smiled and leant back in his chair. He 
drained his wine-cup to the dregs, and with half-shut 



52 WOLF SOLENT 

malignant eyes, full of a strange inward unction, he 
squinnied at his interlocutor. The lines of his face, as he 
sal there contemplating his imaginary History, took to 
themselves the emphatic dignity of a picture by Holbein. 
The parchment-like skin stretched itself tightly and 
firmly round the bony structure of the cheeks, as though 
it had been vellum over a mysterious folio. A veil of 
almost sacerdotal cunning hovered, like a drooping gon- 
falon, over the man's heavy eyelids and the loose 
wrinkles that gathered beneath his eyes. What still puz- 
zled Wolf more than anything else was the youthful 
glossiness of his host's hair, which contrasted very oddly 
not only with the extreme pallor of his flesh, but also 
with the deeply indented contours of his Holbein-like 
countenance! Mr. Urquhart's coiffure seemed, in fact, 
an obtrusive and unnatural ornament designed to set 
off quite a different type of face from the one it actually 
surmounted. 

"Is it or isn't it a wig?" Wolf caught himself won- 
dering again. But each furtive glance he look at the 
raven-black cranium opposite him made such a supposi- 
tion less and less credible; for by the flicker of the 
candles he seemed to detect the presence of actual in- 
dividual hairs, coarsely and strongly growing, on either 
side of the "parting" in the centre of that massive skull. 
While he was considering this phenomenon, he became 
conscious that Mr. Urquhart had left the mailer of Dor- 
sel Chronicles and was speaking of religion. 

"I was broughl up an Anglican and I shall die an 
Anglican," he was saying. "Thai doesn'l in ihe least 
mean lhal I believe in the Chrislian religion." 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 53 

There was a pause at this point, while the squire re- 
filled his own glass and that of his visitor. 

"I like the altar," the man continued. "The altar, Mr. 
Solent, is the one absolutely satisfactory object of wor- 
ship left in our degenerate days." There came into Mr. 
Urquhart's face, as he uttered these words, an expression 
that struck Wolf as nothing less than Satanic. 

"It does not matter to you then, Sir," tbrew out 
Wolf cautiously, "what the altar represents?" 

Mr. Urquhart smiled. "Eh?" he muttered. "Repre- 
sents did you say?" And then in a vague, dreamy, de- 
tached manner he repeated the word "represents" sev- 
eral times, as if he were mentally examining it, as a 
connoisseur might examine some small object; but his 
voice, as he did this, grew fainter and fainter, and pres- 
ently died away altogether. 

The new secretary bowed discreetly over his plate of 
almonds and raisins. He suspected that if it had not been 
for the excellence of the wine, the great swaying pontif- 
ical head in front of him would have been more reserved 
in its unusual credo. 

"Is the church in King's Barton ritualistic enough for 
your taste, Sir?" he enquired. 

And then straight out of the air there came into his 
mind the image of Mr. John Urquhart, stark naked, with 
a protuberant belly like Punch or Napoleon, kneeling 
in the dead of night, while a storm of rain lashed the 
windows, before the altar of a small, dark, unfrequented 
edifice. 

"Eh? What's that?" grumbled his entertainer. "The 
church here? Oh, Tilly-Valley's all right. Tilly-Valley's 



54 WOLF SOLENT 

as docile as a ewe-lamb." He leaned forward with a sar- 
donic leer, lowering his head between the candles as if 
he possessed a pair of sacred horns. "Tilly-Valley's 
afraid of me; just simply afraid." His voice sank into a 
whisper. "I make him say Mass every morning. D'ye 
hear? I make him say Mass whether there's anyone there 
or not." 

The tone in which Mr. Urquhart uttered these words 
roused a definite hostility in Wolf's nerves. There came 
over him a feeling as if he had been permitted, on an 
airless night, to catch a glimpse of monstrous human 
lineaments behind the heavy rumble of a particular clap 
of thunder. There was something abominably menacing 
in this great wrinkled while face, with its glossy, care- 
fully parted hair, its pendulous eyelids, its baggy eye- 
folds, butting at him between the candle-flames. 

It presented itself to his mind as a clear issue, that 
he had now really come across a person who, in that 
mysterious mylhopceic world in which his own imagina- 
tion insisted on moving, was a serious antagonist an an- 
tagonist who embodied a depth of actual evil such as was 
a completely new experience in his life. This idea, as it 
slowly dawned upon his wine-befogged brain, was at 
once an agitating threat and an exciting challenge. He 
deliberately stiffened the muscles of his body to meet this 
menace. He straightened his shoulders and glanced care- 
lessly round the room. He composed his countenance 
into an expression of cautious reserve. He stretched out 
his legs. He threw one of his arms over the back of his 
chair. He clenched together the fingers of his other hand, 
as it lay on his knee beneath the table. He knew well 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 55 

enough that what Mr. Urquhart saw in these manifesta- 
tions was an access of casual bonhomie in his new secre- 
tary, a bonhomie amounting to something almost like 
youthful bravado. He knew that what he did not see was 
a furtive gathering together of the forces of an alien 
soul, a soul composed of metaphysical chemicals di- 
rectly antipodal to {hose out of which his own was com- 
pounded. 

What Wolf felt in his own mind just then summed 
itself up in vague half-articulated words uttered in that 
margin of his consciousness where the rational fades 
away into the irrational. "This Dorsetshire adventure is 
going to be serious," he said to himself. And then he be- 
came suddenly aware that though quite ignorant of all 
that was occurring in the mind and nerves of his visitor, 
the squire of King's Barton had grown alive to the fact 
that his remarks were not meeting with the same mag- 
netic response that they had met with at first. After a 
minute or two of silence, Mr. Urquhart rose and limped 
towards the door of the dining-room. He opened the door 
for Wolf and they both went out into the hall. 

"I think," he said, as they stood at the foot of the 
stately Jacobean staircase, "I think I will not show you 
the library tonight. You have had a tiring clay, and if 
I take you upstairs there's 110 knowing when we shall 
separate! By Jove"-~and he glanced at the hall-clock 
"it's past ten already! Better say good-night before we 
start talking again, eh? You've got a walk before you, 
too. Better say good-night before we get too interested 
in each other, eh? What? Where'd that idiot put your 
things? Oh, good! Very good. Well, come again by ten 



56 WOLF SOLENT 

o'clock tomorrow morning and we'll settle everything. 
I am very relieved to find how much we've got in com- 
mon. My History will not be betrayed by your assistance 
as it was by my last helper." 

Wolf walked to the place where his coat had been 
laid down by the man-servant, and after he had put it 
on, and picked up his hat and stick, he turned to his host, 
who kept uttering meaningless monosyllables in a silky, 
propitiatory whisper, as if he were ushering out a mad- 
man or a policeman; and asked him point-blank who this 
ill-advised predecessor of his was, turning as he did so 
the handle of the front-door. The question seemed to 
disturb Mr. Urquhart's mental equanimity, as much as 
the chilly March wind that blew in with a gust when the 
door was opened, disturbed his physical balance. 

"Eh? What? What's that? Didn't Darnley tell you? 
The boy ruined my History at the start. I had to tear up 
every scrap. He dropped it and went all in a minute. 
Eh? What? Didn't Darnley tell you? He left it in chaos. 
He played hop-scotch with it!" 

Struggling with the heavy door and the gusty wind, 
Solent muttered a propitiatory reply. 

"Very annoying I hope, indeed, I shall do better, 
Sir! You had to get rid of him, then?" 

The wind whistled past him as he spoke, so that his 
host's final word was scarcely audible. In fact, the last 
thing he saw of Mr. Urquhart was a feeble attempt the 
man seemed to be making to cover his rotund stomach 
with the flaps of his dress-suit. 

When at last the great door had really closed between 
them and he was striding down the stone steps, he found 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 57 

his mind full of the impression which that inarticulate 
final word had made upon him; and before he reached 
the end of the drive and passed through the iron gates 
into Lenty Lane, he had come to the startling conclusion 
that his predecessor in the study of Dorset Chronicles 
had died, as they say in that county, "in the het of his 
job." 

"Good Lord!" he thought, as he turned into Pond 
Lane. "If all he feels for his assistants when they die 
at their post is anger like that, he must be a queer chap 
to deal with. Or did he mean something quite different? 
Dead? Dead? But that wasn't the word he used. What 
was the word he used?" And he continued worrying 
over the wind-blown sarcasm he had caught in the door- 
way, without coming to any solution of the riddle. "If 
it wasn't that he meant the fellow was dead, what did 
he mean?" 

His mind was so full of this problem that he arrived 
at the gate into the small garden of Pond Cottage be- 
fore he was aware of it. There was a faint reddish light 
in the window of what he knew was his own bedroom. 
"She's given me a fire!" he thought to, himself; and he 
looked forward with keen anticipation-to his first night 
in Dorset after twenty-five years. 

Opening the door quietly, he lit a match as soon as 
he was inside, and turned the key in the lock. He then 
took the precaution of taking off his shoes; and lightly 
and stealthily he slipped upstairs and entered his room. 

He had no sooner done so than a figure rose up from 
a chair by the fire and stumbled towards him. It was 
a middle-aged man, in a long, white, old-fashioned night- 



58 WOLF SOLENT 

shirt, with a woollen shawl wrapped about his shoulders. 
There was no light but the firelight in the room; and the 
man's countenance was a mere blur above the folded 
shawl. 

"Was writing poetry ... let my fire out . . . came 
before expected . . . humbly apologize . . . hope you'll 
sleep well . . ." Without further explanation the man 
pushed past him and went out, leaving these broken 
sentences humming in the air like the murmurs of some 
thick, muffled, mechanical instrument. Once more Wolf 
found himself alone with the Landseer and the Alma- 
Tadema pictures. 

"This is too much!" he muttered furiously. "If I can't 
have my room to myself I'll go somewhere else," he 
thought. ' "Does this incense-burner suppose that every- 
one in the world must humour his whimsies?" He opened 
both windows wide and lit the candles on his dressing- 
table. 

Apparently Jason Otter had retired quietly to his bed- 
room, for the house was now as silent as the darkness 
outside it. He began slowly undressing. For a while his 
irritation was prolonged by the way the wind kept mak- 
ing the candles flare; but gradually, in the freshness of 
the cool garden-smells, his accustomed equanimity re- 
turned. After all, there would be plenty of time to adjust 
all these things! He must propitiate these people to the 
limit at present, and feel his way. It would be silly 
to show touchiness and cantankerousness at the very start. 

By the time he had blown out the flickering candles 
and was safe in bed, his habitual mood had quite re- 
asserted itself. He went over in his mind his conversa- 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 59 

tion with Mr. Urquhart, and wondered how far his 
imagination had led him on to exaggerate the sinister 
element in the man. He wished intensely that he had 
caught the drift of that final word about his predecessor. 
Was he dead? Or was it only that he had been ignomin- 
iously dismissed? 

As he grew sleepy, all manner of trivial occurrences 
and objects of this adventurous day began rising up be- 
fore him, emphasizing themselves, out of all proportion 
to the rest, in a strange half-feverish panorama. The 
long, enchanted road revealed in that Gainsborough pic- 
ture hovered before him and beckoned him to follow it. 
The abrupt apologies of Roger Monk melted into the 
furtive exhortations of the old woman in the blue apron. 
Framed in the darkness that closed in upon him, the 
coarse black hairs, that had refused to be reduced to a 
wig, metamorphosed themselves into similar hairs, grow- 
ing, as he knew they could grow, upon a long-dead hu- 
man skull! The jogging grey haunches of the mare that 
had brought him from Ramsgard confused themselves 
with the grey paws of the cat upon Selena Gault's knees. 

Very vividly, more vividly than anything else, he saw 
the waiter at the Lovelace, as he leaned heavily upon 
their tea-table. He remembered now both the queer whit- 
ish scar on the back of that hand and the resemblance to 
the Waterloo-steps face. 

And then, all suddenly, it seemed that he could think 
of nothing else but the completely unknown personality 
apparently that of the clergyman of the place re- 
ferred to so contemptuously by Mr. Urquhart as "Tilly- 
Valley." While the syllables "Tilly- Valley" repeated 



60 WOLF SOLENT 

themselves in his brain, the person concealed behind 
that odd appellation ceased to be a man. He became some 
queer-shaped floating object that could not be put into 
words, and yet was of the utmost importance. What 
was of importance was that an obstinate bend in that 
floating object should be straightened out. Something was 
preventing it from being straightened out, something that 
emanated from a black wig and a woollen shawl, and was 
extremely thick and heavy, and had a taste like port 
wine! 

But there was another thing, far down, far off, covered 
up, as if by masses of dead leaves, a thing that was 
stirring, gathering, rising, a thing that, in a minute more, 
would give him illimitable reassurance and strength. 
When this thing rose to the surface, the bent twig would 
be straightened out and all would be well! This "all 
being well" implied that that calm, placid cow which 
was eating plantain-leaves under Basingstoke church- 
tower, should stop eating and lie down. The cow lying 
down would be a beautiful green mound covered with 
plantains plantains that grew larger and larger, till 
they became enormous succulent leaves as big as ele- 
phants' ears; but the cow couldn't quite lie down. Some- 
thing thick and heavy and sticky, like port wine, im- 
peded its movements. . . . 

Everything in the world was material now. Thoughts 
were material. Feelings were material. It was a world 
of material objects, of which his mind was one. His 
mind was a little bluish-coloured thing, soft, fluffy, like 
blue cotton-wool; and what was rising out of the dead 



A DORSET CHRONICLE 61 

leaves was blue too, but the sticky impeding thing was 
brown, and the bent twig was brown. . . . 

It was as if in that slow sinking into sleep his soul 
had to pass all the long, previous, evolutionary stages 
of planetary life, and be conscious with the conscious- 
ness of vegetable things and mineral things. This is what 
made every material substance of such supernal impor- 
tance to him of an importance which perhaps material 
substances really did possess, if all were known. 



GERDA 



IHE FIRST SENSATION TO WHICH WOLF AWOKE IN A 

morning of rainy wind and drifting clouds, was a sen- 
sation of discomfort. As his mind began concentrating 
on this discomfort, he realized it proceeded from those 
two heavily-framed pictures which gave to his chamber 
a sort of reading-room or club-room aspect. Harmless 
enough in themselves had they awaited him in the par- 
lour of an hotel, they seemed no less than an outrage 
upon his senses when associated with this simple and 
quiet bedroom. He resolved to issue an ultimatum at 
once. He 'hadn't come to Dorsetshire to be oppressed by 
the ponderous labours of Royal Academicians. And he 
would also make it clear that his bedroom was to be his 
sanctuary. No night-shirted intruder should run in and 
out at his pleasure! 

He leapt from the bed and proceeded to turn to the 
wall both of the mid- Victorian masterpieces. That done, 
he lay down again and gave himself up to the rainy air, 
full of the smell of young leaves and wet garden-mould. 
Lying stretched out upon his back, he set himself with 
a deliberate effort to gather up his recent impressions 
and relate them as well as he could to the mood of yes- 
terday's drive. With clear awareness of most of the 
things that had happened to him since he left his mother 
at the door of their little flat in Hammersmith, he was 
oddly conscious that all his deepest instincts were still 
passive, expectant, waiting. He was like a man who re- 



GERDA 63 

covers from the shock of a shipwreck, and who, drying 
himself in the security of some alien beach, hesitates, in 
a grateful placid lethargy, to begin his hunt for berries 
or fruits or fresh water. 

Detail by detail he reviewed the events of the previous 
day; and as the images of all these people of Miss 
Gault, of Darnley, of Mr. Urquhart passed in proces- 
sion before him, he was surprised at the light in which 
he saw them, so different from the way in which they 
had appeared only some eight or nine hours ago. The 
importance of material objects their mystical impor- 
tance had been his last impression before sleeping; but 
now everything appeared in a cold, unmystical light. It 
was always thus when he awoke from sleep; but the 
fact that he recognized the transitoriness of the mood 
did not diminish its power. He was never more cynically 
clairvoyant than on these occasions. He surveyed at such 
times his dearest friends through a sort of unsym- 
pathetic magnifying-glass in which there was not one of 
their frailties that did not stand out in exaggerated re- 
lief. The port-hole, so to speak, of the malign conscious- 
ness through which he saw them was at the same time 
telescopic and microscopic. It was surrounded, too, by a 
thick, circular obscurity. He was abnormally sensitive 
at such times, but with a curtailed and reduced sensi- 
bility. Each particular thing as it presented itself 
dominated the whole field of vision. Nor was this sensi- 
tiveness itself an altogether normal receptivity. It was 
primarily physiological. It had few nervous chords; and 
no spiritual or psychic ones. Everything that approached 
it approached it on the bodily plane, as something 



64 WOLV SOLENT 

even if it were a mental image to be actually grasped 
with the five senses. 

And so, as he lay there, knowing that a long while 
must pass before he would have any chance of breakfast 
or even of a cup of tea, he made a stronger effort than 
usual to get his thoughts into focus. The wet airs blow- 
ing in through the open windows helped him in this 
attempt. It was as if he stole away from thai little round 
port-hole and shuffled off to some upper deck, where he 
could feel the wide horizons. His mind kept reverting to 
what he had fell during the drive with Darnley, and he 
tried to analyze what sort of philosophy it was that re- 
mained with him during all the normal hours when his 
"mythology" his secret spiritual vice lay quiescent. 
He fumbled about in his mind for some clue to his 
normal attitude to life some clue-word that he could 
use to describe it, if any of his new friends began ques- 
tioning him; and the word he hit upon at last was the 
word fetish-worship. That was it! His normal attitude to 
life was just that or nearer that than anything else! 

It was a worship of all the separate, mysterious, living 
souls he approached: "souls" of grass, trees, stones, 
animals, birds, fish; "souls" of planetary bodies and of 
the bodies of men and women; the "souls," even, of all 
manner of inanimate little things; the "souls" of all 
those strange, chemical groupings that give a living 
identity to houses, towns, places, countrysides. . . . 

"Am I inhuman in some appallingly incurable man- 
ner?" he thought. "Is the affection I have for human 
beings less important to me than the shadows of leaves 
and the flowing of waters?" 



GERDA 65 

He gazed intently at the window-sills of his open win- 
dows, above which the tassels of the blinds swayed to 
and fro in the damp gusts of wind. He thought of the 
grotesque and obsessed figure of Selena Gault, as she 
pulled up plantains from his father's grave. No! What- 
ever this fetish-worship might be, it certainly was dif- 
ferent from "love." Love was a possessive, feverish, 
exacting emotion. It demanded a response. It called for 
mutual activity. It entailed responsibility. The thrilling 
delight with which he was wont to contemplate his 
mother's face under certain conditions, the deep satis- 
faction he derived from the sight of Miss Gault and her 
cats, the pleasure with which he had surveyed the blue 
eyes and pointed beard of Darnley Otter these things 
had nothing in them that was either possessive or re- 
sponsible. And yet he lost all thought of himself in 
watching these things, just as he used to do in watching 
the mossy roots of the chestnuts and sycamores in the 
avenues at Hampton Court! It seemed then that what he 
felt for both things and people, as he saw them under 
certain lights, was a kind of exultant blending of vision 
and sympathy. Their beauty held him in a magical en- 
chantment; and between his soul and the "soul," as it 
were, of whatever it was he happened to be regarding, 
there seemed to be established a tremulous and subtle 
reciprocity. 

He was pleased at having thought of the word "fetish- 
worship" in this connection. And it was in the pleasure 
of this thought that he now leapt out of bed and, put- 
ting on his overcoat, began hurriedly to shave himself, 
using as he did so the cold water in his jug. 



66 WOLF SOLENT 

He had not got very far with this, however, when there 
was a sound in the passage outside that reminded him 
of the rattle of the milk-cans on the Longbourne Port 
platform. This was followed by a gentle knock at his 
door. Opening it cautiously, he was surprised to see Mrs. 
Otter herself standing there, while beside her was a wide 
tin balh and a can of hot water. 

"I was waiting till I heard you move," she said. "Darn- 
ley has had his breakfast and gone. He goes to Blacksod 
early. Jason does not get up till late. Dimity and I will 
be ready for you when you come down." 

Wolf hovered at the door, his face lathered, his safety- 
razor in his hand. He suddenly felt no better than a 
lout in the presence of this faded old lady. 

She smiled at him pleasantly. "I hope you'll be happy 
with us," she said. "You'll get used to us soon. Poor 
Mr. Redfern got quite used to us before he died." 

"Mr. Redfern?" 

"The gentleman who helped the Squire with his book. 
But you must have your bath now. Do you think you 
can be ready in about half -an -hour?" 

Wolf bowed his lathered face and she went off. While 
he was dragging the bath into his room, she turned at 
the head of the stairs. 

"Would you like a cup of tea at once, Mr. Solent, or 
will you wait till you come down?" 

"I'll wait, thank you! Thank you very much!" he 
shouted; and jerking both bath and can into his fortress, 
he shut the door and prepared to wash and dress. 

The whole process of his ablution and his dressing 
was now a mechanical accompaniment to absent-minded 



GERDA 67 

fantastic thoughts on the subject of the dead Mr. Red- 
fern. 

"This was the fellow's room, no doubt," he said to 
himself. "I suppose he died here. A nice death, with those 
monstrous pictures lying like lead on his consciousness!" 

It was on Mr. Redfern's behalf now that Wolf scowled 
at the backs of these pictures, as he sponged himself 
in the tin bath. Mr. Redfern dominated that half-hour, 
to the exclusion of all other thoughts. Wolf saw him 
lying stone-dead on the pillows he himself had just 
quitted. He saw him as a pale, emaciated youth, with 
beautifully moulded features. He wondered if he had 
been buried by the person Mr. Urquhart called "Tilly- 
Valley." He decided he would look for his grave in the 
King's Barton churchyard. His dead face took during 
that half-hour the most curious forms. It became the 
soap. It became the sponge. It became the spilt water 
upon the floor. It became the slop-pail. It became the 
untidy heap of Wolf's dress-clothes. Wolf was not re- 
lieved from it, in fact, till he found himself drinking 
delicious cups of tea and eating incredibly fresh eggs 
under the care of his hostess in their pleasant dining- 
room. The pictures here were of the kind that no phi- 
losopher could quarrel with. Old-fashioned pririts, old- 
fashioned pastels, old-fashioned engravings, gave the 
room a spirit that seemed to emerge from centuries of 
placidity and stretch out consolatory hands to every 
kind of wayfarer. 

"This is my room," said Mrs. Otter, looking very 
pleased when Wolf explained to her what he felt about 
it. "These things came from my own home in Cornwall, 



68 WOLF SOLENT 

The best things in the house belonged to my husband. 
They're in the drawing-room; very valuable things. But 
I like this room myself and I'm glad you do. Mr. Red- 
fern used to love to read and write at this table. I believe 
if he'd done all his work here he'd never have got that 
terrible illness. That library of Mr. Urquhart's was too 
learned for him, poor, dear, young man! And he ivas so 
good-looking! My son Jason used to call him by the 
names of all the heathen gods, one after another! Jason 
was extremely upset when he died so suddenly." 

The visitor to King's Barton found his attention wan- 
dering several times after this. Mrs. Otler began to drift 
into rambling stories about her native Cornwall, and it 
was only Wolf's power of automatically putting a con- 
vincing animation into his heavy countenance that pre- 
vented her from realizing how far away his thoughts 
had flown. 

Hostess and guest were interrupted in their rather 
one-sided tete-a-tete by the sound of footsteps descend- 
ing the stairs. Mrs. Otter jumped up at once. 

"It's Jason!" she cried. "We must have disturbed him. 
I was talking too much. I'll go and tell Dimity she need 
not clear away. I expect Jason will like to have a smoke 
with you," 

She disappeared through the door into the kitchen at 
the very moment when her elder son entered the room. 
Wolf was astonished at the difference between the figure 
he had seen the night before and the figure he rose to 
shake hands with now. Dressed in neat, dark-blue serge, 
Jason Otler had the quiet, self-composed air of a much- 



GERDA 69 

travelled man of the world. His clean-shaven face, 
framed by prematurely grey hair, was massively and yet 
abnormally expressive. Forehead and chin were impos- 
ing and commanding; but this effect was diminished and 
almost negated by the peculiar kind of restless misery 
displayed in the lines of the mouth. The man's eyes were 
large and grey; and instead of glancing aside in the way 
Darnley's did, they seemed to cry out for help without 
cessation or intermission. 

He and Wolf sat opposite each other at Mr. Redfern's 
favourite table y and, lighting their cigarettes, looked 
each other up and down in silence. Jason Otter was de- 
cidedly nervous. Wolf saw his hand shaking as he lit a 
match. 

There was, indeed, something almost indecent about 
the sensitiveness of this man's lined and indented face. 
It made Wolf feel as though at all costs the possessor of 
such a countenance must be protected from nervous 
shocks. Was it in taking care of him that Darnley's blue 
eyes had acquired their curious expression? Jason's own 
eyes were not tragic. They were something worse. They 
were exposed; they were stripped bare; they seemed to 
peer forth helplessly from the human skull behind them, 
as though some protective filaments that ought to have 
been there were not there! 

"I saw you'd turned our pictures to the wall," he be- 
gan, fixing his pleading eyes upon Wolf's face as if 
asking for permission to humble himself to the ground. 
"Ill have them taken away. I'll have them put in the 
privy or in the passage." 



70 WOLF SOLENT 

"Oh, it's all right, Mr. Otter," returned Wolf. "It's 
only that I never can sleep in a room with large pictures. 
It's a peculiarity of mine." 

No sooner had Jason heard this expression, "a pe- 
culiarity of mine," than his whole visage changed. A 
childish mischievousness illuminated his pallid physiog- 
nomy, and he chuckled audibly, nodding his head. 

"A peculiarity? That's excellent. That's what Blue- 
beard used to say. 'It's a peculiarity of mine.' I think 
that's one of the prettiest excuses I've ever heard." 

This explosion was so surprising to Wolf that all he 
could do was to open his mouth and stare at the man. 
But the humour passed as quickly as it had come. The 
face unwrinkled itself. The eyes became supplicatory. 
The mouth tightened in solemn misery. 

"I don't want anyone to be bothered about the mov- 
ing of those pictures, Mr. Otter," said Wolf; for he 
seemed to see with terrible distinctness the devoted lady 
of the house struggling alone with those heavy frames. 
"You must allow me to do it myself. In fact," he went 
on, in what he tried to make a casual, airy tone, "I'm 
going to beg Mrs. Otter to let me treat that room as if it 
were an unfurnished flat of my own." 

The head opposite him was so grey that he felt as if 
he were addressing this hint to Mrs. Otter's husband 
rather than to her son. 

Very gently, moving delicately, like Agag before Sam- 
uel, Jason rose to his feet. "I think we'd better get those 
pictures changed now," he whispered earnestly, in a 
grave, conspiring voice. 



GERDA 71 

Wolf tried to retain his airy, casual manner in the 
face of this gravity. 

"I'll do it like a shot," he said, rising and moving to- 
wards the door. "Just tell me where to put them!" 

The two men went up together, and under Jason's di- 
rections the Landseer and the Alma-Tadema were de- 
posited in a vacant room at the back of the pantry. 

"Come upstairs for a minute," said Mr. Otter, when 
this transaction was completed; and stepping softly and 
quietly, as if there were a dead person somewhere in the 
house, he led the way into his own room. 

Wolf felt the same uneasy sensations in this chamber 
as he had experienced the evening before. Sinking into 
a luxurious armchair and accepting a cigarette, he found 
himself bold enough to make a faint protest against his 
host's Arundel prints, whose ceremonious piety he found 
so distasteful. 

"I couldn't work in this room," he murmured and 
felt as he spoke that his tone was cantankerous and im- 
polite. 

But Jason Otter showed not the least annoyance or 
even surprise at his guest's rudeness. 

"I expect not! I expect not!" he cried cheerfully. 
"There are few people who could. I myself could work 
in a church or in a museum. I welcome anything that 
acts as a shield. It's like having a band of retainers, a 
sort of papal guard, to keep the populace at bay." 

As he spoke, he looked proudly and complacently 
round the room, as if conscious of the protection of the 
antique French chair in which he had ensconced him- 



72 WOLF SOLENT 

self. There was a Boule table at his side, and he pro- 
ceeded to dust it with a large silk handkerchief. 

"I suppose you've never read any books on Hindoo 
mythology?" he said suddenly. 

The word "mythology" gave Wolf an uncomfortable 
shock. He felt as a Catholic might feel if he heard a 
Methodist refer to the Virgin Mary. 

He shook his head. 

"I've only read one myself," went on the poet, with 
a chuckle; "so you needn't feel a fool. It was by that 
man who went to Thibet. But in it he mentions Muka- 
log, the god of rain." 

"The god of rain?" responded Wolf, beginning to feel 
reassured. 

"That's what the man says," continued the other. "Of 
course, we know what these travellers are; but he had a 
lot of letters after his name, so I suppose he passed 
some examination." Jason put his hand in front of his 
mouth as he said this; and his face was wrinkled with 
amusement. "He knows Latin, anyway. He brings it in 
on the first page," he added. 

"It sounds like a real idol . . . Mukalog, the god of 
rain . . ." murmured Wolf. 

Jason's countenance suddenly grew solemn and con- 
fidential. "I've got it here," he whispered. "I bought it 
for thirty shillings from Mr. Malakite, the bookseller. 
He bought it at a sale from some fool who thought it 
was nothing. . . . It's brought me all my luck. . . ." 
He lowered his voice still further, so that Wolf could 
scarcely hear him. "These priests look for God in the 
clouds, but I never do that. ... I look for Him . . ." 



GERDA 73 

"I beg your pardon?" questioned Wolf, leaning at- 
tentively forward. "You say you look for Him . . . ?" 

There was a pause; and the expression of the man 
changed from extreme gravity to hobgoblinish humour. 

"In the mud!" he shouted. 

Then, once more grave, he rose to his feet and fetched 
from its pedestal a hideous East Indian idol, about six 
inches high, and placed it in the middle of the Boule 
table, just opposite Wolf. 

"It's his stomach that makes him so shocking," said 
Jason Otter; "but the ways of God aren't as dainty 
as those of the Bishop of Salisbury. In this world Truth 
flies downward, not upward!" 

Hardly aware of what he was doing, so occupied was 
his mind with the whole problem of his host's personal- 
ity, Wolf rose, and, leaning over the table, picked up 
Mukalog, the god of rain. Holding it absent-mindedly 
in his fingers for a while, he finally made a foolish 
schoolboy-like attempt to balance it upside-down on the 
flat skull of its monstrous head. 

This proceeding brought a flash of real anger into 
Jason's eyes. He snatched the thing away with a nerv- 
ous clutch, and, hurrying to the back of the room, re- 
placed it on its jade pedestal, which Wolf noticed now, 
with no great surprise, was standing near a carved bra- 
zier containing some still-smouldering ashes doubtless 
the ashes of that very incense which had to be "ordered 
from the Stores"! 

While his host returned in silence to his French chair 
and in profound dejection took out his cigarette-case, 
Wolf, still staring in a sort of hypnotized trance at the 



74 WOLF SOLENT 

"god of rain," set himself to wonder why it was that the 
kind of evil which emanated from this idol should be 
so much more distasteful than the kind of evil that 
emanated from Mr. Urquhart. 

He came to the conclusion that although it is impos- 
sible for any living human being to obliterate all ele- 
ments of good from itself, it is possible for an artist, or 
for a writer, or even for the anonymous creative energy 
of the race itself, to create an image of evil that should 
be entirely evil. 

But why should this Hindoo idol seem so much more 
sinister than any Chinese or Japanese monster? Was it 
because in India the cult of spirituality, both for good 
and evil, had been carried to a greater length than any- 
where else in the world? 

"You'd better not listen to any tales about me that 
old Urquhart tells you," said the poet suddenly, fixing 
his sorrowful eyes upon the visitor. 

The name of his employer made Wolf rise hurriedly 
from his armchair. 

"Certainly not," he said brusquely, moving to the 
door. As he placed his hand on the door-handle, he felt 
as though the evil spirit of Mukalog were serpentining 
towards him over the poet's shoulders and over the 
smooth Boule table. 

"I'm not one to listen to tales from anyone, Mr. Ot- 
ter," he said as he went out. 

He crossed the landing and entered his own room. 
Now that he was alone, he fell into a very grave medita- 
tion, as he slowly laced up his boots. "No wonder," he 
said to himself, "that poor chap Redfern committed sui- 



GERDA 75 

cide! What with this man's demon and Mr. Urquhart's 
devilish History, this place doesn't seem a paradisal re- 
treat. Well! Well! We shall see what we shall see." 

He carried his coat and hat quietly downstairs and 
managed to get out of the house unobserved by either 
Mrs. Otter or the old servant. 

The current of his mood was running more normally 
and gently by the time he found himself being escorted 
by his eccentric employer to the great isolated library 
which was now to be the scene of his labours. His dream 
of the writing-table by a mullioned window "blushing 
with the blood of kings and queens" turned out to be 
a literal presentiment. The view he got from his seat 
at that window surpassed the Gainsborough itself. The 
manor-garden melted away into herbaceous terraces and 
shadowy orchards. These in their turn faded into a green 
pasture-land, on the further side of which, faint in the 
distance, he could make out the high ridge of ploughed 
fields along the top of which ran the main road from 
Biacksod to Ramsgard. 

Mr. Urquhart, however, seemed in a fussy, preoccu- 
pied, fidgetty mood that morning. He kept bringing 
books from the shelves and placing them on his secre- 
tary's table; and then, after he had opened them and 
read a passage or two, muttering "That's good, isn't it? 
That's the kind of thing we want, isn't it?" he would 
return them to the shelves and bring back others. Wolf 
was not very much helped by these manoeuvres. In fact, 
he was teased and nonplussed. He was anxious to find 
out exactly how much of a free hand he was going to 
be allowed, and he was also anxious to find out what 



330 



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GERDA 77 

Wolf listened patiently and dutifully to this discourse. 
What he thought in his mind was: "This whole business 
is evidently just an old man's hobby. I must give up any 
idea of taking it seriously. I must play with it, just as 
he's playing with it." 

With this intention in his mind, as soon as he was 
alone in his window, he spread open before him that 
monument of scurrilous scandal, "The History of the 
Abbotsbury Family," and gave himself up to leisurely 
note-making. He transcribed in as lively a way as he 
could the most outrageous of the misdeeds of this re- 
markable race, as they are narrated by the sly Doctor 
Tarrant. He exaggerated, where it was possible, the Doc- 
tor's unctuous commentaries, and he added a few of his 
own. He began before long to think that the Squire was 
not so devoid of all sagacity in this unusual method as 
he had at first supposed. 

Half the morning had already passed in this way 
when Mr. Urquhart came limping in in a slate of im- 
petuous excitement. 

"I must send you off at once to Blacksod," he began. 
"Eh? What? You don't mind walking a few miles, eh? 
Roger says he can't spare the trap. You can lunch in 
the town at my expense. I've got a bill at the Three Pee- 
wits; and you can come back at your leisure. You don't 
object, eh? It's nothing for a young man like you, and 
there's very good ale at the Peewits." 

Wolf folded up his notes and replaced Doctor Tar- 
rant's History. He expressed himself as more than de- 
lighted to walk to Blacksod, and he enquired what it 
was that Mr. Urquhart wanted done. 



78 WOLF SOLENT 

"Well, there are two things that have come up, both 
of them rather important. I've just heard from my book- 
seller down there. You'll easily find him. His name's 
Malakite. He's in Cerne Street. He says he's got hold of 
the Evershot Letters. That's the book for us, Solent! 
Privately printed and full of allusions to the Bramble- 
down Case! He says there's a man in London after it 
already. That may be a lie. You'll have to find out. 
Sometimes Malakite's let me have the use of a book and 
then sold it afterwards. You'll have to find out, Solent. 
Eh? What? You'll have to be a diplomatist, a Talley- 
rand, and that sort of thing, eh?" 

Wolf composed his countenance as intelligently as he 
could and enquired what the other thing was. 

Mr. Urquhart lifted his eyebrows, as if the question 
had been impertinent. 

"The other thing?" he murmured dreamily. 

But the next moment, as Wolf leaned back against the 
arm of his chair and looked straight into the man's eyes, 
there was a startling change in that supercilious face. 
A flicker, a shadow, a nothing, passed from one to the 
other; one of those exposures of secret thoughts that 
seem to bring together levels of consciousness beyond 
rational thought. It was all over in a moment; and with 
a quick alteration of his position, and a shuffling of his 
stick, the lame man recovered his composure. 

"Ah yes," he murmured, with a smiling inclination of 
his head that resembled the bow of a great gentleman 
confessing a lapse of memory. "Ah yes, you are per- 
fectly right, Solent. There was another little thing that 
you might as well attend to while you're about it. It's 



GERDA 79 

not of any pressing importance; but, as I say, if you 
have time, and feel energetic, it might be a good thing 
to jolt the memory of Mr. Torp. Eh? What's that? Torp, 
the stone-cutter. Torp of Chequers Street. You'll easily 
find the fellow. He's a jack-of-all-trades does under- 
taking and grave-digging as well as stone-cutting." 

Mr. Urquhart became silent, but the expression upon 
his face was like that of some courtly prince-prelate of 
old times, who desired his subordinate to obey instruc- 
tions that he was unwilling to put into vulgar speech. 

"Mr. Torp?" repeated Wolf, patiently and interroga- 
tively. 

"Just a little matter of a headstone," went on the 
other. "Tilly-Valley's quarrelled with our sexton here. 
So I've had to use Torp as both sexton and undertaker. 
He has been disgracefully dilatory." Mr. Urquhart shuf- 
fled to the bookcase, leaning heavily on his stick. He 
changed the position of one or two of the books; and as 
he did so, with his back to his secretary, he finished his 
sentence. "He's been as dilatory about Redfern's head- 
stone as he was about digging his grave." 

Once more there was a silence in the library of King's 
Barton Manor. But when the Squire turned round, he 
seemed in the best of spirits. "It's not your job, of course, 
this kind of thing. But I'm an old man and I don't think 
you're touchy about trifles. Jog the memory of the good 
Torp, then, will you? What? Jolt the torpid Torp. 
That's the word, eh? Tell the beggar in good clear 
English that I'll go to Dorchester for that stone if he 
doesn't set it up within the week. You can do that for me, 
Solent? But it's not important. If it's a bother, let it go! 



80 WOLF SOLENT 

But have a good luncheon at the Three Peewits any- 
way! Make 'em give 'ee their own ale. It's good. It's 
excellent. That individual down at Pond Collage gets 
drunk on it every night, Monk tells me." 

Turning again to the bookcase, Mr. Urquhart made 
as though the conversation had terminated; and Wolf, 
after a moment or Iwo of that awkward hesilalion which 
a subordinate feels when he is uncertain as to what par- 
ticular gesture of parting is required, went straight out 
of the room, without a word, and ran downstairs. 

He had found his hat and stick, and was on the point 
of letting himself out of the house, when the liltle side- 
door leading to the kitchen hurriedly opened, and Roger 
Monk made himself visible. He did this with the precip- 
itation of a man reckless wilh anxiety, and he plunged 
at once into rapid speech. 

"You'll excuse me, Mr. Solent, for troubling you, but 
the truth of the matter is, Sir, that this house will be 
upset by breakfasl-time tomorrow, unless you unless 
you would be so kind, Sir, as to help Mrs. Martin and 
myself." 

"What on earth is coming now?" thought Wolf. "These 
King's Barton servants seem pretty hard put to it." 

" Tisn't as though I didn't know that it's above my 
province to speak," went on the agitated man. "But 
speak I must; and if you're the kind of young genlleman 
I think you are, you'll listen to my words." 

Wolf contemplated the swarthy giant, who, dressed in 
his gardener's-clothes, with bare throat and bare arms, 
had the torso of a classical athlete. Beads of perspira- 



GERDA 81 

tion stood out on his forehead, and his great sunburnt 
hands made weak fumbling gestures in the air. 

"Certainly, Roger. By all means, Roger. I shall be 
delighted to help you and Mrs. Martin in any way I can. 
What is it I can do for you?" 

The tall servant's face relaxed instantaneously, and he 
smiled sweetly. His smile was like the smile of some 
melancholy slave in a Greek play. His voice sank into a 
confidential whisper. 

"It's sausages, Sir, asking you to excuse me, it's sau- 
sages. Mr. Urquhart has to have 'em these days for 
breakfast, and there ain't none of 'em in the house; and 
I am too set out, what with horses to clean and arti- 
chokes to plant and pigs in the yard to feed, to go to 
town myself." 

Wolf smiled in as grave and well-bred a manner as 
he could. "I'll be very glad to bring you home some 
sausages, Monk," he said amiably. 

"At Weevil's," cried the other, full of relief and joy. 
"At Weevil's in High Street. And be sure you get fresh 
ones, Mr. Solent. Tell Bob Weevil they're for me. He 
knows me and I know him. Don't mention Squire. Say 
they're for Mr. Monk. He'll know! Two pounds of sau- 
sages; and you can tell Weevil to put 'em down. Thank 
'ee more than I can say, Sir, for doing this. It eases a 
man's mind. I was downright distraught in thinking of 
it. Squire's like that. What he puts his heart on he puts 
his heart on, and none can turn him. I've been with other 
gentlemen mostly in stable-work you understand but 
I've never worked for one like Squire. Doesn't do. to 



82 WOLF SOLENT 

contravene Squire when his heart is fixed, and so I thank 
'ee kindly, Mr. Solent." And the man vanished with the 
same precipitation with which he appeared. 

Wolf set out down the drive in extremely good spirits. 
Nothing suited him better than to have the day to him- 
gelf. It seemed to extend before him, this day, and gather 
volume and freedom, as if it were many days rolled 
into one. It didn't worry him that it was Friday. The 
nature of the day, its cloudiness, its gustiness, its grey- 
ness, suited his mood completely. It seemed to carry 
his mind far, far back back beyond any definite recol- 
lections. The look of the oak palings; the look of the 
mud; the look of the branches, with their scarcely 
budded embryo leaves swaying in the wind all these 
things hit his imagination with a sudden accumulated 
force. He rubbed his hands; he prodded the ground 
with his stick; he strode forward with great strides. 

This melancholy day, with its gustily blown elm- 
branches, seemed to extend itself before him along a road 
that was something more than an ordinary road. Frag- 
mentary images, made up out of fantastic names the 
name of Torp, the name of Malakite hovered in front 
of him, mingled with the foam of dark-brown ale and 
the peculiar, bare, smooth look of uncooked sausages. 
And over and above such images floated the ambiguous 
presence of his father, William Solent. He felt as if 
everything that might chance to happen on this grey 
phantom-like day would happen under the direct in- 
fluence of this dead man. He loved his father at that 
moment, not with any idealistic emotion, but with an 



GERDA 83 

earthy, sensual, heathen piety which allowed for much 
equivocal indulgence. 

At the foot of the drive he turned into Lenty Lane, 
passing at the corner a trim liltle cottage, whose gar- 
den of rich black earth was full of daffodils. He stopped 
for a moment to stare at the window of this neat lodge 
thinking in his mind, "That must be where Roger Monk 
lives" and without being seriously disturbed, he was a 
little startled when, by reason of some impish trick of 
light and shade, it seemed to him that he saw an image 
of himself standing just inside one of the lower windows. 

But he walked on in undiminished good spirits, and 
in about a quarter of an hour found himself in the 
centre of the village of King's Barton. 

All the cottages he saw here had protective cornices, 
carved above windows and doors, chiselled and moulded 
with as much elaboration as if they were ornamenting 
some noble mansion or abbey. Many of these cottage- 
doors stood ajar, as Wolf passed by, and it was easy for 
him to observe their quaintly furnished interiors: the 
china dogs upon the mantelpieces, the grandfalher's- 
clocks, the highly-coloured lithographs of war and re- 
ligion, the shining pots and pans, the well-scrubbed deal 
tables, the deeply indented wooden steps leading to the 
rooms above. Almost all of them had large flagstones, of 
the same mellow, yellowish tint, laid between the door- 
step and the path;* and in many cases this stone was as 
deeply hollowed out, under the passing feet of the gen- 
erations, as was the actual doorstep which rose above it. 

Beyond these cottages his road led him past the low 



84 WOLF SOLENT 

wall of the parish-church. Here he stopped for a while 
to view the graves and to enjoy the look of that solid 
and yel proud edifice whose massive masonry and tall 
square tower gathered up into themselves so many of 
the characteristics of that countryside. 

Wolf wondered vaguely in what part of the church- 
yard his predecessor's body lay that hiding-place with- 
out a headstone! He also wondered whether by some 
stroke of good luck he should get a glimpse of that sub- 
missive clergyman, satirically styled "Tilly-Valley," pot- 
tering about the place. 

But the church remained lonely and unfrequented at 
that mid-morning hour. Nothing moved there but a heavy 
rack of dark-grey, wind-blown clouds, sailing swiftly 
above the four foliated pinnacles that rose from the cor- 
ners of the tower. Close to the church he perceived what 
was evidently the parsonage; but there was no sign of 
life there either. 

The cottages grew more scattered now. Some of them 
were really small dairy-farms, through the gates of whose 
muddy yards he could see pigs and poultry, and some- 
times a young bull or an excited flock of geese. 

At last he had passed the last house of the village 
and was drifting leisurely along a lonely country road. 
The hedges were already in full leaf; but many of the 
trees, especially the oaks and ashes, were yet quite bare. 
The ditches on both sides of the road contained gleam- 
ing patches of celandines. 

As Wolf walked along, an extraordinary happiness 
took possession of him. He seemed to derive satisfac- 
tion from the mere mechanical achievement of putting 



GERDA 85 

one foot in front of the other. It seemed a delicious 
privilege to him merely to feel his boots sinking in the 
wet mud merely to feel the gusts of cold air blowing 
upon his face. 

He asked himself lazily why it was that he found 
nature, especially this simple pastoral nature that made 
no attempt to be grandiose or even picturesque, so much 
more thrilling than any human society he had ever met. 
He felt as if he enjoyed at that hour some primitive life- 
feeling that was identical with what these pollarded elms 
felt, against whose ribbed trunks the gusts of wind were 
blowing, or with what these shiny celandine-leaves felt, 
whose world was limited to tree-roots and fern-fronds 
and damp, dark mud! 

The town of Blacksod stands in the midst of a richly 
green valley, at the point where the Dorsetshire Black- 
more Vale, following the loamy banks of the river Lunt, 
carries its umbrageous ferlilily into the great Somerset- 
shire plain. Blacksod is . not only the centre of a large 
agricultural district; it is the energetic arid bustling 
emporium of many small but enterprising factories. 
Cheeses are made here and also shoes. Sausages are 
made here and also leather gloves. Ironmongers, sad- 
dlers, shops dealing in every sort of farm-implement 
and farm-produce, abound in the streets of Blacksod side 
by side with haberdashers, grocers, fishmongers; and up 
and down its narrow pavements farmers and labourers 
jostle with factory-hands and burgesses. 

After walking for about two miles, Wolf became con- 
scious that this lively agglomeration of West Country 
trade was about to reveal itself. The hedges became 



86 WOLF SOLENT 

lower, the ditches shallower, the blackbirds and thrushes 
less voluble. Neat little villas began to appear at the 
roadside, with trim but rather exposed gardens, where 
daffodils nodded with a splendid negligence, as if ready 
in their royal largesse to do what they could for the 
patient clerks and humble shop-assistants who had 
weeded the earth about their proud stems. 

Soon there began to be manifested certain signs of 
borough traffic. Motor-cars showed themselves and even 
motor-lorries. Bakers' carts and butchers' carts came 
swiftly past him. He overtook maids and mothers re- 
turning from shopping, with perambulators where the 
infant riders were almost lost beneath the heaps of par- 
cels piled up around them. He observed a couple of 
tramps taking off their boots under the hedge, their long 
brown peevish fingers untwisting dirty linen, their fur- 
tive suspicious eyes watching the passers-by with the 
look of sick jackals. 

And then he found himself in an actual street. It was 
a new street, composed of spick-and-span jerry-built 
houses, each exactly like the other. But it gave Wolf a 
mysterious satisfaction. The neatness, the abnormal 
cleanliness of the brickwork and of the wretched sham- 
Gothic ornamentation did not displease him. The little 
gardens, behind low, brightly-painted, wooden palings, 
were delicious to him, with their crocuses and jonquils 
and budding polyanthuses. 

He surveyed these little houses and gardens doubt- 
less the homes of artisans and factory-hands with a 
feeling of almost maudlin delight. He imagined himself 
as living in one of these places, and he realized exactly 



GERDA 87 

with what deep sensual pleasure he would enjoy the 
rain and the intermittent sunshine. There would be noth- 
ing artistic or over-cl uttered there, to prevent every 
delicate vibration of air and sky from reaching the skin 
of his very soul. He loved the muslin curtains over the 
parlour-windows, and the ferns and flowerpots on the 
window-sills. He loved ihe quaint names of these little 
toy houses names like Rosecot, Woodbine, Bankside, 
Primrose Villa. He tried to fancy what it would be like 
to sit in the bow-window of any one of these, drinking 
tea and eating bread-and-honey, while the Spring after- 
noon slowly darkened towards twilight. 

He roused himself presently from these imaginations 
to observe that some of the real business of the town was 
becoming manifest. The little houses began to be inter- 
spersed with wood-sheds and timber-yards, by grocers' 
shops and coal-yards. He became alert now that faint 
sort of "second-sight," which almost all contemplative 
people possess, warning him that Mr. Torp's establish- 
ment was not far off. He knew he was in Chequers Street. 
It only remained for him to keep his eyes open. He 
walked very slowly now, peering at the yards and shops 
on both sides of the road; and as he walked, a curious 
trance-like sensation came over him, the nature of which 
was very complicated, though no doubt it had something 
to do with the emptiness of his stomach. But it took 
the form of making him feel as if he were retracing some 
sequence of events through which long ago he had al- 
ready passed. 

Ah! There it was! "Torp, Stone-Cutter." He gazed 
with interest at the various monuments for the dead, 



88 WOLF SOLENT 

which lay about on the ground or stood erect and chal- 
lenging against the wall. It produced a queer impres- 
sion, this crowd of anonymous tombstones, the owners 
and possessors whereof even now cheerfully walking 
about the earth. 

"I must get this Torp to show me what he's done for 
poor Redfern," he thought, as he passed on to the door 
of the house. 

He knocked at the door and was so instantaneously 
admitted that it was with a certain degree of confusion 
that he found himself in the very heart of the stone- 
cutter's household. 

They had evidently just finished their midday meal. 
Mrs. Torp, a lean, cadaverous woman, was clearing the 
table. The stone-cutter himself, a plump, lethargic man, 
with a whimsical eye, was smoking his pipe by the 
fire. A handsome boy of about eleven, who had evidently 
just opened the door to let himself out, fell back now 
and stared at the stranger with a bold impertinence. 

"What can I do for 'ee, Sir?" said Mr. Torp, not 
making any attempt to rise, but smiling amiably at the 
intruder. 

"Get on! Get off! Don't worry the gentleman, Lob!" 
murmured the woman to the spellbound boy. 

And then it was that Wolf became aware of another 
member of the family. 

No sooner was he conscious of her presence than he 
felt himself becoming as speechless with astonishment 
as the boy was at his own appearance. She sat on a 
stool opposite her father, leaning her shoulders against 
the edge of a high-backed settle. She was a young girl 



GERDA 89 

of about eighteen, and her beauty was so startling that 
it seemed to destroy in a moment all ordinary human 
relations. Her wide-open grey eyes were fringed with 
long, dark eyelashes. Her voluptuous throat resembled 
an arum lily before it has unsheathed its petals. She 
wore a simple close-fitting dress, more suited to the 
summer than to a chilly day in spring; but the pe- 
culiarity of this dress lay in the way it emphasized the 
extraordinary suppleness of her shoulders and the deli- 
cate Artemis-like beauty of her young breasts. 

"I've come from King's Barton," began Wolf, moving 
towards the stone-cutler. "I believe I have the honour 
to have taken the place of the gentleman for whom you 
have just designed one of your monuments." 

"Sit 'ee down, Misler. Sit 'ee down, Sir!" cried the man 
cheerfully. "Give the gentleman a chair, Missus!" He 
spoke in a tone that implied that his own obesity must 
be accepted as a pleasant excucc for his retaining a 
sitting-posture. 

But Mrs. Torp had already left the room with a tray; 
and Wolf, as he seated himself with his face to the girl, 
could hear the woman muttering viciously to herself 
and clattering angrily with the plates behind the kitchen- 
door a door she seemed to have left open on purpose, 
so that she might combine the pleasure of listening to 
the conversation with the pleasure of disturbing it. 

"Missus be cantiferous wi' I 'cos them 'taties be so 
terrible rotted," remarked the man, in a loud, hoarse 
whisper, leaning forward towards his guest and con- 
fidentially tapping his knee with his pipe. "And them 
onions what she been and cooked all morning, she've 



90 WOLF SOLENT 

a-boiled all taste out o' they. Them onions might as well 
be hog-roots for all the Christian juice what be left in 
W 

Wolf, who had found it difficult to keep his eyes away 
from the girl by the settle, now suddenly became aware 
that she was fully conscious of his agitation and was 
regarding him with grave amusement. 

"I suppose you don't do any of the cooking?" he 
said, rather faintly, meeting her gaze. 

She changed her position into one that emphasized 
her beauty with a kind of innocent wantonness, smiled 
straight into his eyes, but remained silent. 

"She?" put in her father. "Save us and help us! 
Gerda tlo the cooking? Why, Mister, that girl ain't got 
the gumption to comb her own hair. That's the Lord's 
own truth, Mister, what I'm telling 'ee. She ain't got the 
durncd consideration to comb her own hair; and it 
be mighly silky, too, when it be combed out. But her 
mother have to do it. There ain't nothing in this blessed 
house what thai poor woman hasn't to do; and her own 
daughter sitting round, strong as a May-pole. Now 
you be off to school, Lob Torp! Don't yer trouble the 
gentleman." 

This last remark was due to the fact that the hand- 
some boy had edged himself quite close to Wolf and 
was gazing at him with a mixture of admiration and 
insolence. 

"What be that on your chain?" he enquired. "Be that 
a real girt seal, like what King John throwed into the 
Wash?" 

Wolf put his arm round the child's waist; but as he 



GERDA 91 

did so, he looked* steadily at Gerda. At that moment 
Mrs. Torp re-enlered the room. 

"Well, John?" she said. "Aren't yer going into 
the yard? That stone for Mr. Manley's mother's been 
waiting since Sunday. He comes to see 'un five times a 
day. He'll be a crazed-man like, if 'tisn't up afore to- 
morrow." 

Wolf rose to his feet. 

"What shall I tell Mr. Urquhart about the headstone 
for Mr. Redfern?" 

He utlered these words in a more decided and less 
propitiatory tone than he had yet used, and all the 
family stared at him with placid surprise. 

"Oh, that!" cried Mr. Torp. "So you came about that, 
did yer? I had thought maybe you knowed some 
wealthy folk out in country what had a waiting corpse. 
Do 'ee come from these parts, Mister, or 'be 'ee from 
Lunnon, as this 'ere Redfern were? . . . Lunnon, eh? 
Well, 'tis strange that two young men same as you be 
should come to Blacksod; and both be Lunnoners! But 
that's what I tells our Gerda here. Maids what won't 
help their mothers in house, maids what do nought but 
walk out wi' lads, had best be in Lunnon their own 
selves! That there Metropolis must be summat wonder- 
ful to look at, I reckon. I expect they makes their own 
moniments in them parts?" 

Wolf nodded, with a shrug of his shoulders, to im- 
ply that there was little need at present for Mr. Torp to 
think of extending his activities. 

"Could you show me what you've done for Redfern?" 
he asked abruptly. 



92 WOLF SOLENT 

"Well, there ain't no harm in that, is there, Missus ?" 
said the stone-cutter, looking appealingly at his wife. 

"Best show him," said the lady briefly. "Best show 
him. But let 'un understand that Mr. Manley's mother 
is what comes first." 

The obese stone-cutter rose with an effort and led 
the way into the yard. Wolf stepped aside to permit 
the girl to follow her father; and as she passed him, she 
gave him a glance that resembled the sudden trembling 
of a white-lilac branch, heavy with rain and sweetness. 
Her languorous personality dominated the whole oc- 
casion for him; and as he watched her swaying body 
moving between those oblong stones in that cold en- 
closure, the thought rose within him that if his sub- 
terranean vice couldn't find a place for loveliness like 
this, there must be something really inhuman in its ex- 
actions. 

With an incredible rapidity he began laying plots to 
see this girl again. Did Mr. Urquhart know of her ex- 
istence? Had Darnley Otter ever seen her? ... He was 
roused from his amorous thoughts by an abrupt gesture 
of Mr. Torp. 

"There 'a be!" said the carver. " Tis Ham Hill stone, 
as Squire Urquhart said for'n to be. I does better jobs 
in marble; and marble's what most of 'em likes. But 
that's the order; and the young gent what it's chipped 
for can't help 'isself." 

Wolf regarded the upright yellow slab, upon the top 
of which was a vigorous "Here Lies," and at the foot of 
which was an even more vigorous "John Torp, Monu- 
ment-Maker." 



GERDA 93 

"You haven't got very far, Mr. Torp," he remarked 
drily. 

"Won't take me more'n a couple o' afternoons to finish 
it up," replied the other. "And you can tell Mr. Urqu- 
hart that as soon as Mr. Manley be satisfied Mr. Man- 
ley of Willum's Mill, tell 'un! I'll get to work on his 
young friend and make a clean joh of he." 

There did not seem any excuse just then for prolong- 
ing this interview. Wolf's mind hurried backwards and 
forwards like a rat trying to find a hole into a pantry. 
He thought, "Would they let her show me the way to 
the Three Peewits?" and then immediately afterwards 
he thought, "They'll send the boy, and Fll never get rid 
of him!" 

In the end he went off with an abruptness that was 
almost rude. He patted Lob on the head, nodded at the 
stone-cutter, plunged into the eyes of Gerda as a diver 
plunges into water, and strode away down Chequers 
Street. 

It was not long before he was seated at a spotless 
white cloth in the commercial dining-room of the fa- 
mous West Country inn. In front of him rose a massive 
mahogany sideboard, which served as a sort of sacred 
pedestal for the ancient silver plate of three genera- 
tions of sagacious landlords. In the centre of this silver 
were two symbolic objects an immense uncut ham, 
adorned with a white paper frill, and a large half-eaten 
apple-tart. 

Wolf was so late for luncheon that he and a solitary 
waiter had the whole dusky, sober room entirely to them- 
selves. They were, however, looked down upon by the 



94 WOLF SOLENT 

ferocious eye of a stuffed pike and by the supercilious 
eye of Queen Victoria, who, wearing the blue ribbon of 
the Garter, conveyed, but only by the flicker of an eye- 
lid, her ineffable disdain for all members of the human 
race who were not subjects of the House of Hanover. 

And as he lingered over his meal, drinking that dark, 
foamy liquor that seemed the dedicated antidote to a 
grey March day, he permitted his fancy to run riot with 
the loveliness of Gerda Torp. How remarkable that she 
had never once opened her lips! And yet in her silence 
she had compelled both that room and that yard to serve 
as mere frames to her personality. He tilted back in his 
chair, and pressed the palms of his hands against the 
edge of the table, revolving every detail of that queer 
scene, and becoming so absorbed that it was only after 
a perceptible interval that he began to taste the cigarettes 
which he went on unconsciously smoking. 

The girl was not the particular physical type that 
appealed to him most, or that had, whenever he had 
come across it, the most provocative effect upon his 
senses; but the effect upon him of a beauty so overpow- 
ering, so absolute in its flawlessness, was great enough 
to sweep out of sight all previous predilections. And 
now, as he conjured up the vision of what she was like, 
it seemed that nothing more desirable could possibly 
happen to him than to enjoy such beauty. 

He made up his mind that by hook or by crook he 
would possess her. He knew perfectly well that he could 
not, properly speaking, be said to have fallen in love 
with her. He was like a man who suddenly finds out that 
he has suffered all his life from thirst, and simul- 



GERDA 95 

taneously with this discovery stumbles upon a cool cel- 
lar of the rarest wine. To have caught sight of her at 
all was to be dominated by an insatiable craving for 
her a craving that made him feel as if he had some 
sixth sense, some sense that must be satisfied by the pos- 
session of her, and that nothing but the possession of 
her could satisfy. 

Drugged and dazed with the Three Peewits' ale and 
with these amorous contemplations, Wolf sat on be- 
neath that picture of Queen Victoria in a species of erotic 
trance. His rugged face, with its high cheek-bones and 
hawk-like nose, nodded over his plate with half-shut 
lecherous eyes. Every now and then he ran his fingers 
through his short, stiff, fair hair, till it stood up erect 
upon his head. 

"Well, well," he said to himself at last, "this won't 
do!" And rising abruptly from his chair, he gave the 
waiter, who, in his preoccupation had been to him a mere 
white blur above a black coat, an extravagant lip half- 
a-crown, in fact and, taking up his hat and stick, told 
them to put down his meal to Mr. Urquhart's account, 
and stepped out into the street. 

The cold, gusty wind, when he got outside, cleared 
his brain at once. He made up his mind that he would 
leave the bookseller to the last; and, stopping one of the 
passers-by, he enquired the way to Weevil's grocery. 

Never did he forget that first lingering stroll through 
the centre of Blacksod! The country people seemed to 
be doing their shopping as if it were some special fete. 
Parsons, squires, farmers, villagers all were receiving 
obsequious and yet quizzical welcome from the sly shop- 



96 WOLF SOLENT 

keepers and their irresponsible assistants. The image of 
Gerda Torp moved with him as he drifted slowly 
through this animated scene. Her sweetness flowed 
through his senses and flowed out around him, height- 
ening his interest in everything he looked at, making 
everything seem rich and mellow, as if it were seen 
through a diffused golden light, like that of the pic- 
tures of Claude Lorraine. 

And all the while over the slate roofs the great grey 
clouds rushed upon their arbitrary way. His spirit, drunk 
with the sweetness of Gerda and the fumes of the Three 
Peewits' ale, rose in exultation to follow those clouds. 

Whirling along with them in this exultant freedom 
of his spirit, while his human figure with its oak walking- 
stick tapped the edge of the pavement, he felt a queer 
need, now, to carry this maddeningly sweet burden of 
his to that mound in the Ramsgard cemetery. 

"He would chuckle over this," thought Wolf, as he 
recalled that profane death-bed cry. "He would push me 
on to snatch most scandalously at this girl, let the re- 
sult be as it may!" 

His mind dropped now like a leaden plummet into 
all manner of erotic thoughts. Would her silence go 
on ... with its indrawirig magnetic secrecy . . . even 
if he were making love to her? Would that glaucous 
greyness in her eyes darken, or grow more luminous, as 
he caressed her? Gerda certainly couldn't be called a 
"peeled willow-wand," for her limbs were rounded 
and voluptuous, just as her face had something of that 
lethargic sulkiness that is seen sometimes in ancient 
Greek sculpture. 



GERDA 97 

It was just at this point that, looking round for a 
suitable person to enquire of again concerning the 
sausage-shop, he felt himself jerked by the elbow; and 
there, in front of him, smiling up into his face, was the 
handsome, mischievous countenance of Lob Torp. 

"I see'd 'ee, Mister!" burst out the boy breathlessly. 
"I see'd 'ee long afore 'ee could see I! Say now, Mister, 
have 'ee any cigarette-pictures on 'ee?" 

Wolf surveyed the excited child thoughtfully. Surely 
the gods were on his side this day! 

"If I haven't, I soon will have," he brought out with 
a nervous smile, searching hurriedly in his pockcls. 

It appeared that he did have a couple of half-used 
packages, containing the desired little bits of stiff, shiny 
paper. 

"There, there's two, at any rate!" he said, handing 
them over. 

Lob Torp scrutinized the two cards with a disap- 
pointed eye. "They ain't Three Castles," he said sadly. 
"Them others hain't as pretty as they Three Castles be." 
He meditated for a moment, with his hands in his pock- 
ets. "Say, Mister," he began eagerly, with radiant eyes. 
"Tell 'ee what I'll do for 'ee. I'll sell 'ee the photo of 
Sis what I be taking down to Bob Weevil's. He were 
a-going to gie I summat for'n, but like enough it'll be 
worth more to a gent like yourself. Conic now, mister, 
gie I a sixpence and I'll gie 'ee the picture and say 
nought to Bob." 

The ingratiating smile with which Lob uttered these 
words would have been worthy of an Algerian street- 
arab. Wolf made a humorous grimace at him, under 



98 WOLF SOLENT 

the mask of which he hid annoyance, uneasiness, curi- 
osity. 

The boy continued : " Tis a wonderful pretty picture, 
Mister. I looked it me own self. She be ridin' astride 
one of them wold tombstones in Dad's yard, just the 
same as 'twere a girt 'oss." 

"I don't mind looking at it," said Wolf, after a pause, 
pulling the boy into the door of a shop. But Lob Torp 
was evidently an adept in the ways of infatuated gentle- 
men. 

"Threepence for a look, Mister, and sixpence for to 
keep," he said resolutely. 

It was on the tip of Wolf's tongue to cry, "Hand it 
over, .boy. I'll keep it!" But an instinct of suspicious 
dignity restrained him, and he assumed a non-committal, 
negligent air. But under this air the ancient, sly cun- 
ning of the predatory demon began to fumble at the 
springs of his intention. "I'll get Bob Weevil to show 
it to me," the Machiavellian monitor whispered. "I shall 
have it in my hands then without being indebted to this 
rascally little blackmailer!" 

He turned to the boy and took him by the arm. "Come 
on, youngster!" he said. "Never mind about the picture. 
Much belter give it to your friend! I'm going to Weevil's 
shop now myself, and you can show me ihe way. I'll 
give you your sixpence for that!" He pulled ihe child 
forward with him and made him walk by his side, his 
arm ihrown lighlly and casually round Lobbie's neck. 
Bui all ihis sagacious hypocrisy no more deceived ihe 
cynical intelligence of Gerda's brother lhan did the 
unction of that arm about his shoulder! 



GERDA 99 

The child slipped out of his grasp like a little eel. 
"Don't 'ee hold on to I, Mister. I ain't going to rin no- 
where. I ain't a-gived school the go-by for to play mar- 
bles. I be goin' fishing with Bob Weevil, present. He lets 
I hold his net for'n." 

"Oh, is there any fishing about here?" enquired Wolf 
blandly, accepting his defeat. The boy skipped a pace 
or two like a young rabbit. 

" 'Tain't what you'd call fishing, Mister. Nought but 
minnies and stickles, 'cept when us do go to Willum's 
Mill. Woops-I! But them girt chub be hard to hook. 
And Mister Manley he likes to keep them for the gentry. 
'Tis when us be down to Willum's of an evening, when 
farmer be feeding 'isself, that Bob and me do a bit of 
real fishing." 

Wolf surveyed the good-looking urchin with benev- 
olent irony. "Have you ever landed any of those big 
chub?" he asked. And then he suddenly became con- 
scious that the nervous, hunted eye of a very shabby 
clergyman was observing them both, with startled in- 
terest, from the edge of the pavement. 

"We're near where us wants to go now, Sir," was the 
boy's irrelevant response, uttered in a surprisingly loud 
voice. 

When they had advanced a little further, the child 
turned round to his companion and whispered furtively. 
"Yon Passon were the Reverend T. E. Valley, Mister, 
from King's Barton. 'Ee do talk to I sometimes about 
helping he with them holy services up to church; but 
Dad he says all them things be gammon. He's what you 
might call blasphemious, my Dad is; and I be blasphe- 



100 WOLF SOLENT 

mious, too, I reckon; though Bob says that High Church 
be a religion what lets a person play cricket on Sun- 
days. But I takes no stock o' that, being as cricket and 
such-like ain't nought to I." 

"Tilly-Valley! Tilly-Valley!" muttered Wolf under 
his breath, recalling the contemptuous allusion of Mr. 
Urquhart. 

"Here we be, Mister!" cried Lobbie Torp, pausing 
before a capacious old-fashioned shop, over which was 
written in dignified lettering, "Robert Weevil and Son." 

They entered together, and the boy was at once greeted 
by a young man behind the counter, a young man with 
black hair and a pasty complexion. 

"Hullo, Lob! Come to see if there's fishing tonight?" 

Wolf advanced in as easy and natural a manner as 
he could assume. "I must propitiate my rival," he said 
grimly to himself. "My name is Solent, Mr. Weevil," 
he said aloud, "and I come on behalf of Mr. Urquhart 
of King's Barton." 

"Yes, Sir, quite so, Sir; and what can I do for you, 
Sir?" said the young man politely, bowing with a pro- 
fessional smirk over the polished counter. 

"The gentleman's been to see Dad," put in Lobbie, in 
his high treble. "And he saw Sis, too, and Sis seed 
him, too; and I rinned after him and showed him the 
way!" 

"And what can I do for you, Sir, or for Mr. Urqu- 
hart, Sir?" repeated the young grocer. 

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Weevil, it was Monk, the 
man up there, who asked me to come to you. It appears 
he's run out of sausages your especial sausages and 



GERDA 101 

he begged me to take back a pound or two for him." 

"I'll do them up at once for you," said the grocer 
benignantly. "I've just had a new lot in." 

It was not very surprising to Wolf to notice that his 
young guide hurriedly followed Mr. Weevil into the 
recesses of the shop. From where he stood he could see 
the two of them quite clearly through an open door, the 
dark head and the fair head close together, poring over 
some object that certainly was not sausages! 

A shameless and scandalous curiosity seized him to 
share in that colloquy. The various paraphernalia of the 
shop, the piled-up tins of Reading Biscuits, the great 
copper canisters of Indian teas, the noble erections of 
Blacksod cheeses all melted all grew vague and in- 
distinct. 

"Mounted astride of a girt tombstone," he repeated 
to himself; and the thought of the cool whiteness of that 
girl's skin and its contact with that chiselled marble 
reduced everything else in the world to a kind of irrel- 
evance, to something that fell into the category of the 
tedious and the negligible. 

There came at last an outburst of merriment from the 
back of the shop that actually caused him to make a 
few hurried steps in that direction ; but he stopped short, 
interdicted by his sense of personal dignity. "I really 
can't join in libidinous jesting with the Blacksod popu- 
lace just at present!" he thought to himself. "But there's 
plenty of time. I've no doubt William Solent would have 
had no such hesitation!" And the thought came over him 
how ridiculous these dignified withdrawings of his would 
appear to that grinning skull in the cemetery. 



102 WOLF SOLENT 

But the youth and the boy came back again now 
gravely enough to the front of the shop. 

"There you are, sir!" said Bob Weevil, handing him 
a lusty package, and puffing out his cheeks as he did so. 
"I think Mr. Urquhart will find those to his taste." He 
paused and gave Wolf's companion a glance of com- 
plicated significance. "Don't tell Gerdie what I said 
about that picture, Lob, will you?" he added. 

There was a tone in this remark that caused Wolf's 
face to stiffen and his eyebrows to rise. "And now per- 
haps you can tell me," he said, "where I can find Mala- 
kite's, the book-shop?" 

The two friends exchanged a puzzled and baffled 
glance, not unmixed with disapproval. Books were evi- 
dently something for which they both entertained a hos- 
tile suspicion. But the young grocer gave him detailed 
instructions, to which Lob Torp listened with satiric 
condescension. "See you both again soon!" murmured 
Wolf, with dignified amiability, as he left the shop. 

He walked very slowly this time along the Blacksod 
pavements, and he found himself buttoning his overcoat 
tightly and turning up his collar; for the wind had 
veered from northwest to due north, and the air that 
blew against his face now had whistled across the sheep- 
tracks of Salisbury Plain. 

Ah! There was the second-hand-book shop, with the 
single curious word, "Malakite," written above it. He 
paused for a second to gaze in at the window, and was 
both surprised and delighted by the number and rarity 
of the works exposed there for sale. The house itself 
was a solidly constructed, sturdily built Mid-Victorian 



GERDA 103 

erection, with a grey slate roof; and there was a little 
open passage at one side of it, leading, he could see, into 
a small walled-in garden at the back. 

He pushed open the door and entered the shop. At 
first he found it difficult to see clearly; for it was al- 
ready nearly four o'clock, the sky heavily overcast, the 
place ill-lighted, the gas-jets unlit. But after a moment 
of suspense, he made out a tall, gaunt, bearded, old man, 
with sunken cheeks, hollow eye-sockets, closely cropped 
grizzled hair, sealed in a corner of the shop upon a 
rough, faded horse-hair chair, with a little round table 
in front of him, carefully gumming together the loose 
leaves of a large folio which he held upon his knee. The 
old man's head was bent low over his work, and he made 
no sign of having heard anyone enter. 

"Mr. Malakite?" said Wolf quietly, advancing towards 
him between rows of books. His approach was so easy 
and natural in that dim light, that his astonishment may 
be imagined when the old man let the folio fall to the 
ground, and stumbled to his feet with such agitated 
violence that the round table collapsed also, tossing the 
glue-pot upon the floor. In that twilit place it was almost 
spectral to see the eyes in that old furrowed face staring 
forth like black holes burnt in a wooden panel. 

"I startled you, Sir," muttered Wolf gently, drawing 
back a little. "It's a dark, cold afternoon. I'm afraid I 
disturbed you. I am very sorry." 

For one second the old bookseller seemed to totter 
and sway, as if to follow his folio to the ground; but 
he mastered himself, and, leaning against the arm of 
his horse-hair chair, spoke in a dry, collected voice. His 



104 WOLF SOLENT 

words were as unexpected to his visitor as his agitation 
had been. 

"Who are you, young man?" he said sternly. "Who 
were your parents?" 

Not Dante himself, when in the Inferno he heard a 
similar question from that proud tomb, could have been 
more startled than Wolf was at this extraordinary en- 
quiry. 

"My name is Wolf Solent, Mr. Malakite," he an- 
swered humbly. "My father's name was William Solent. 
He was a master at Ramsgard School. My mother lives 
in London. I am acting now as Secretary for Mr. Urqu- 
hart." 

The, old man, hearing these words, gave vent to a 
curious rattling sigh, deep down in his throat, like the 
sound of the wind through a patch of dead thistle-heads. 
He made a feeble gesture with one of his long, bony 
hands, half apologetic, half sorrowful, and sank back 
again upon his chair. 

"You must forgive me, Sir," he said after a pause. 
"You must forgive mo, Mr. Solent. The truth is, your 
voice, coming suddenly upon me like that, reminded 
me of things that ought to be reminded me of- of too 
many things." The old man's voice rose at the words 
"too many," but his next remark was quiet and natural. 
"I knew your father quile well, sir. We were intimate 
friends. His death was a great blow to me. Your father, 
Mr. Solent, was a very remarkable man." 

Wolf, on hearing these words, moved up to the book- 
seller's side, and with an easy and spontaneous gesture 



GERDA 105 

laid his hand upon the hand of the old man as it rested 
upon the arm of his chair. 

"You are the second friend of my father's that I have 
met lately," said he. "The other was Miss Selena Gault." 

The old man hardly seemed to listen to these words. 
He kept staring at him, out of his sunken eye-sockets, 
with deprecatory intensity. 

Wolf, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable, bent 
down and occupied himself by picking up the fallen 
table, the glue-pot, and the folio. As he did this he began 
to grow aware of a sensation resembling that which he 
had felt in Mr. Urquhart's library the sensation of the 
presence of forms of human obliquity completely new 
in his experience. 

He had no sooner got the folio safe back upon the 
table, than the shop-door swung open behind him and 
closed with a resounding noise. He glanced round; and 
there, to his surprise, stood Darnley Otter. This quiet 
gentleman brought in with him such an air of case and 
orderliness, that Wolf felt a wave of very agreeable re- 
assurance pass through his nerves. He was, in fact, thor- 
oughly relieved to see that yellow beard and gracious 
reticence. The man's reserved manner and courtly smile 
gave him a comfortable sense of a return to those nor- 
mal and natural conventions from which he felt as if he 
had departed very far since he left the tea-room of the 
Lovelace Hotel yesterday. 

The two young men exchanged greetings, while the 
owner of the book-shop observed them with a sort of 
patient bewilderment. He then rose slowly to his feet. 



106 WOLF SOLENT 

"It's time for tea," he said, in a carefully measured 
voice. "I generally lock the place up now and go up- 
stairs. I don't know " He hesitated, looking from 

one to the other. "I don't know whether it would be ask- 
ing too much if I asked you both to come upstairs with 
me?" 

Wolf and Mr. Otter simultaneously expressed their 
extreme desire to drink a cup of tea with him. 

"I'll go and warn my daughter, then," he said eagerly. 
"You know, Mr. Otter, I feel as if this young gentleman 
and myself were already old friends. By the way, this 
folio, Sir" and he turned to Solent "is the book I 
wrote to Mr. Urquhart about. I think I shall have to 
trust it with you. It's a treasure. But Mr. Urquhart is a 
good customer of mine. I don't think he'll want to pur- 
chase it though. Its price is higher than he usually cares 
to give. Will you excuse me, then, gentlemen?" 

So saying, he opened a door at the rear of the shop 
and vanished from view. The two men looked at each 
other with that particular look which normal people ex- 
change when an extraordinary person has suddenly left 
them. 

"A remarkable old chap," observed Wolf quietly. 

Darnley shrugged his shoulders and looked round the 
shop. 

"You don't think so?" pursued Solent. 

"Oh, he's all right," admitted the other. 

"You don't like him, then?" 

The only reply to this was an almost Gallic gesture, 
implying avoidance of an unpleasant subject. 

"Why, what's wrong?" said Solent, pressing him. 



GERDA 107 

"Oh, well," responded the Latin-teacher, driven to 
make himself more explicit. "There's a rather sinister 
legend attached to Mr. Malakite, in regard to his wife." 

"His wife?" echoed Wolf. 

"He is said to have killed her with shame." 

"Shame? Do people die of shame?" 

"They have been known to do so," said the school- 
master, drily, "at least in classical times. You've prob- 
ably heard of CEdipus, Solent?" 

"But CEdipus didn't die. That was the whole point. The 
gods carried him away." 

"Well, perhaps the gods will carry Mr. Malakite 
away." 

"What do you mean?" enquired Wolf, with great in- 
terest, lowering his voice. 

"Oh, I daresay we make too much of these things. 
But there was a quarrel between this man and his wife, 
connected with his fondness for their daughter, this 
young Christie's elder sister . . . and . . . well . . . 
there was a child born, too." 

"And the wife died?" 

"The wife died. The girl was packed off to Australia. 
It seems she couldn't bear the sight of her child, and 
it was taken away from her. I can't tell you whether 
the case got as far as the law-courts, or whether it was 
hushed up. Your friend Miss Gault knows all about it." 

Wolf was silent, meditating upon all this. 

"Not a very pleasant background for the other daugh- 
ter!" he brought out at last. 

"Oh, she's a funny little thing," said Darnley, smiling. 
"She lives so completely in books, that I don't think she 



108 WOLF SOLENT 

takes anything that happens in the real world very 
seriously. She always seems to me, when I meet her, as 
if she'd just come out of a deep trance and wanted to 
return to it. She and I get on splendidly. Well, you'll 
see her in a minute, and can judge for yourself." 

Wolf was silent again. He was thinking of the friend- 
ship between this old man and his father. He pondered 
in his mind whether or not to reveal to Darnley the un- 
expected agitation which his appearance had excited. 
For some reason he felt reluctant to do this. He felt 
vaguely that his new closeness to his cynical progenitor 
committed him to a certain caution. He was on the edge 
of all manner of dark entanglements. Well! He would 
use what discernment he had; but at any rate he would 
keep the whole problem to himself. 

"I went to Torp's yard," he remarked, anxious to 
change the subject. "The fellow doesn't seem to have 
got very far with Red fern's headstone." 

Darnley Otter lifted his heavy eyelids and fixed upon 
him a sudden piercing look from his mackerel-blue eyes. 

"Did Urquhart talk to you about Redfern?" he asked. 

"Only to grumble at him for doing something about 
the book that didn't suit his ideas. Did you know him? 
Did he die suddenly?" 

Mr. Otter, instead of replying, turned his back, put 
his hands in his pockets, and began pacing up and down 
the floor of the shop, which seemed to get darker and 
darker around them. 

He slopped suddenly and pulled at his trim beard. 

"I cursed my wretched school-work to you yester- 
day," he said. "But when I think of the misery that hu- 



GERDA 109 

man beings cause one another in this world, I am thank- 
ful that I can teach Latin, and let it all go. But I dare- 
say I exaggerate; I daresay I exaggerate." 

At that moment the door at the back of the shop 
opened, and the old bookseller, standing in the en- 
trance, called out to them in a calm, well-bred voice. 

"Will you come, gentlemen? Will you come?" 

They followed him in silence into a little unlit pas- 
sage. Preceding them with a slow, careful shuffle, he led 
them up a flight of steps to a landing above, where there 
were several closed doors and one open door. At this 
open door he stood aside and beckoned them to enter. 

The room, when they found themselves within it, was 
lighted by a pleasant, green-shaded lamp. There was a 
warm fire burning in ihe grate, in front of which was a 
dainty tea-table wilh an old-fashioned urn, a silver tea- 
pot, some cups and saucers of Dresden china, and a 
large plate of thin bread-and-butter. 

From beside this table a fragile-looking girl who 
might have been anything between twenty and twenty- 
five rose to welcome them. Darn ley Otter greeted this 
young person in the matmer of a benevolent uncle, and 
while Wolf and she were shaking hands, retained her 
left hand affectionately in his own. 

Solent had received, since he left King's Barton, so 
many disturbing impressions, that he was glad enough 
to yield himself up now, in this peaceful room, to what 
was really a vague, formless anodyne of almost Quaker- 
ish serenity. What he felt was undoubtedly due to the 
personality of Christie Malakite; but as he sank down 
in an armchair by her side, the impression he received 



110 WOLF SOLENT 

of her appearance was confined to an awareness of 
smoothly parted hair, of a quaint pointed chin, and 
of a figure so slight and sexless that it resembled those 
meagre, androgynous forms that can be seen sometimes 
in early Italian pictures. 

For several minutes Wolf permitted the conversation 
to pass lightly and .easily between Darnley and Christie, 
while he occupied himself in enjoying his tea. He did 
not, however, hesitate to cast every now and then surrep- 
titious glances at the extraordinary countenance of the old 
man, who, at a little distance from the table, was repos- 
ing in a kind of abstracted coma, his bony hands clasped 
around one of his thin knees, and his eyes half-closed. 

Then, all in a moment, Wolf found himself describ- 
ing his 'visit to the stone-cutter's yard, and without the 
least embarrassment enlarging upon the hypnotic charm 
that had been cast upon him by the loveliness of Gerda. 

It appeared, for some mysterious reason, that he could 
talk more freely to these two people than he had ever 
talked in his life. 

He had come, little as he had yet seen of him, to have 
a genuine regard for Darnley Otter, a regard that he 
had reason to feel was quite as strongly reciprocated. 
And in addition to this there seemed to be something 
about the pale, indefinite profile of the girl by his side, 
the patient slenderness of her neck, the cool detachment 
of her whole attitude, that unloosed the flow of his 
speech and threw around him an unforced consciousness 
of being at one with himself and at one with the general 
stream of life. 

Darnley rallied him with a dry shamelessness about 



GERDA in 

his confessed infatuation for the stone-cutter's daugh- 
ter; and Christie, turning every now and then an almost 
elfish smile toward his voluble talk, actually offered, as 
she filled his cup for the third or fourth time, to help 
him in his adventure by inviting the young woman her- 
self, whom she said she knew perfectly well, to have 
tea with him any afternoon he liked to name! 

"She is beautiful," the girl repeated. "I love to watch 
her. But I warn you, Mr. Solent, you'll have many 
rivals." 

"She's worse than a flirt," remarked Darnley, gravely, 
"She's got something in her that I have always fancied 
Helen of Troy must have had a sort of terrible pas- 
sivity. I know for a fact that she's had three lovers al- 
ready. One of them was a young Oxonian who, they tell 
me, was a terrific rake. Another, so they say, was your 
predecessor, young Redfern. But none of them forgive 
me, Christie dear! seems to have, as they say down 
here, 'got her into trouble.' None of them seems to have 
made the least impression upon her! I doubt if she pos- 
sesses what you call a heart. Certainly not a heart that 
you, Solent" he smiled one of his gentlest ironic smiles 
"are likely to break. So go ahead, my friend ! We shall 
watch the course of your 'furtivos amores,' as Catullus 
would say, with the most cold-blooded interest. Shan't 
we, Christie?" 

The young girl turned upon Wolf her steady, unpro- 
vocative, indulgent gaze. "Perhaps," she said quietly, 
after a moment in which Wolf felt as though his mind 
had encountered her mind like two bodiless shadows in 
a flowing river "perhaps in this case it will be differ- 



112 WOLF SOLENT 

ent. Would you marry her if it were different?" These 
words were added in a tone that had the sort of faint 
aqueous mischief in it, such as a waler-nymph might 
have indulged in, contemplating the rather heavy earth- 
loves of a pair of mortals. 

"Oh, confound it, that's going a little too fast, even 
for me!" Wolf protested. And, in the silence that fol- 
lowed, it seemed to him as if these two people, this 
Darnley and this Christie, had managed between them, 
in some sort of subtle conspiracy, to take off the de- 
licious edge of his furtive obsession. 

"Damn them!" he muttered to himself. "I was a fool 
to talk about it. But there it is! None of their chatter 
can make the sweetness of Gerda less entrancing." But 
even as he formulated this revolt with a half -humorous 
irritation, he was aware that his mood had in some im- 
perceptible way changed. Under cover of the friendly 
badinage that was going on between Darnley and Chris- 
lie, he once or twice encountered the silent observation of 
the old bookseller, who had now lighted his pipe and 
was watching them all with a cloudy inlentness; and it 
occurred to him that it was quite as much due to the 
shock of what he had heard about the old man that this 
change had come, as to anything that these two had said. 

"But to the devil with them all!" he muttered to him- 
self, as he and Darnley rose to go. "I've never seen any- 
thing as desirable as that girl's body and I'm not going 
to be leased into giving it up." 

Before he left the house, the old bookseller wrapped 
the folio in paper and cardboard and placed it in his 
hands, making, as he did so, an automatic reference to 



GERDA 113 

his professional concern about its well-being. But the 
expression in Mr. Malakite's hollow eyes, as this trans- 
action took place, seemed to Wolf to have some quite 
different significance some significance in no way con- 
nected with the History of the Evershot Family. 

All the way back to King's Barton, as the two men 
walked side by side in friendly fragmentary speech, Wolf 
kept making spasmodic attempts to adjust the folio and 
the sausages so as to leave his right hand free for his 
oak -stick. He rejected all offers of assistance from his 
companion with a kind of obstinate pride, declaring that 
he "liked" carrying parcels; but the physical difficulty 
of these adjustments had the effect of diminishing his 
response both to the influence of the night and to the 
conversation of his friend. 

It was quite dark now; and the north wind, whistling 
through the blackthorn-hedges, sighing through the tops 
of the trees, whimpering in the telegraph-wires, had be- 
gun to acquire thai peculiar burden of impersonal sad- 
ness, which seems to combine the natural sorrows of the 
human generations with some strange planetary grief 
whose character is unrevealed. 

The influence of this dirge-like wind did by degrees, 
in spite of the numbness of his obstinate clutch upon his 
packages, come to affect Wolf's mind. He seemed to rush 
backward on the wings of this wind, to the two human 
heads to the fleshless head of William Solent buried in 
the earth and to the despairing head of that son of perdi- 
tion crouching at Waterloo Station. 

He mentally compared, as he shouted his replies to his 
companion's remarks against the blustering gusts, the 



114 WOLF SOLENT 

sardonic aplomb of the skull under the clay with that 
ghastly despair of the living, and he flung over the thorn- 
hedge a savage comment upon the ways of God. 

The trim beard of Darn ley Otter might wag on ... 
like a brave bowsprit "stemming nightly to the pole" 
. . . but the keel of every human vessel had a leak . . . 
it was only a question of chance . . .just pure chance 
. . . how far that leak would go ... any wagging 
beard . . . any brave chin might have to cry, at any 
moment, "Hold, enough!" . . . 

And suddenly, in the covering darkness, Wolf took 
off his hat and stretched back his head, straining his 
neck as far as it would go, so that without relaxing the 
movement of walking, his up-turned face might become 
horizontal. In this position he made a hideous grimace 
into infinity a grimace directed at the Governing 
Power of the Universe. What he desired to express in this 
grimace was an announcement that his own secret hap- 
piness had not "squared" him. . . . 

His mind rushed upwards like a rocket among those 
distant stars. He imagined himself standing on some in- 
credible promontory on the faintest star he could see. 
Even from that vantage he wanted to repeat his defiance 
not "squared" yet, crafty universe! not "squared" 
yet! 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 



1 HE DESTINIES CERTAINLY DID APPEAR ANXIOUS TO 
"square" him; for when that evening, after dinner with 
the Otters, he repaired to the Manor House with his 
packages, Mr. Urquhart turned out to be so delighted 
with the book, that he commissioned him to return to the 
bookseller the very next morning and make the old man 
a liberal offer. 

Wolf awoke, therefore, on this day of Saturn, in that 
vague delicious mood wherein the sense of happiness-to- 
come seems, like a great melted pearl, to cover every 
immediate object and person with a liquid glamour. 

He took his bath with unalloyed satisfaction between 
the four bare walls, whereon certain dimly outlined 
squares in the extended whiteness indicated the exile of 
all art except that of the air, the sun, and the wind. 

He saw nothing of either of the brothers. Jason had not 
yet appeared; and though there had been some vague 
reference to his accompanying Darnley in his early start, 
it was now clear that the younger Otter wished his morn- 
ing walk to be free of human intercourse. 

This was all agreeable enough to Wolf, who, like most 
conspirators, had a furtive desire to be left to his own 
devices; and he resolved, without putting his resolution 
into any formal shape, that as soon as his business with 
Malakite was settled, he would make his way to the stone- 
cutter's yard. 

From his conversation at breakfast with Mrs. Otter, 



116 WOLF SOLENT 

he learnt that it was possible to reach the portion of the 
town where the bookseller lived without following the 
whole length of Chequers Street. This suited him well, as 
he wished to time his appearance at the Torp menage so 
as to be certain of finding the girl at home. 

He had discovered, laid carefully at the edge of his 
plate, a letter from his mother, and another letter, with 
a Ramsgard postmark, that he suspected to be from 
Selena Gault. Both these epistles he hurriedly thrust into 
his coat-pocket, afraid of any ill-omened side-tracking 
of his plans for that auspicious day. 

It lacked about an hour of noon, when, armed with 
permission to bid as high as five pounds for the Evershot 
chronicle, Wolf entered for the second time the establish- 
ment of Mr. John Malakite. 

The old man received him without the remotest trace of 
the emotion of the preceding day. He agreed so quickly to 
accept Mr. Urquhart's offer, that Wolf felt a little 
ashamed of his own skill as a business intermediary. But 
he was glad to escape the tedium of haggling, and was 
preparing to bid the bookseller farewell, when the man 
asked in a blank and neutral voice, as if the proposal 
were a mechanical form of politeness, "Will you come 
upstairs with me, Mr. Solent, and have a glass of some- 
thing?" 

Knowing that there was no immediate hurry, if he were 
to time his visit to the Torps so as to catch them at their 
midday meal, Wolf assented to this suggestion, and, as 
on the former occasion, followed the man up the dark 
stairway with unquestioning docility. 

He found Christie in a long blue apron, dusting the 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 117 

little sitting-room. Wolf was touched by the grave awk- 
wardness with which she pulled this garment over her 
head and flung it down before offering him her hand. 
The dress she now appeared in was of a sombre brown, 
and so tightly fitting that it not only enhanced her 
slenderness, but also gave her an almost hieratic look. 
With her smoothly parted hair and abstracted brown 
eyes she resembled some withdrawn priestess of Artemis, 
interrupted in some sacred rite. 

No sooner was the guest seated, than Mr. Malakite 
muttered some inarticulate apology and went down to his 
shop. 

The girl stood for a while in silence, looking down 
upon her visitor, who returned her scrutiny without em- 
barrassment. A delicious sense of age-long intimacy and 
ease flowed over him. 

"Well, Mr. Solent," she murmured, "I suppose you're 
not going to leave Blacksod without seeing Gerda?" 

"I thought of waiting till their dinner-time," he said, 
"when I would be certain of finding her. Redfern's head- 
stone can be dragged in again as an excuse." 

Christie nodded gravely. "I wrote to her yesterday," 
she said, "after you went. If I'd known you were coming 
in today I might have asked her to tea. But I daresay 
she'll come anyway. She often does pay me visits." 

While the girl uttered these words, Wolf became aware 
for the first time of the extraordinary key in which her 
voice was pitched. It was a key so faint and so unresonant 
as to suggest some actual deficiency in her vocal cords. 
As soon as he became conscious of this peculiarity, he 
found his attention wandering from the meaning of her 



118 WOLF SOLENT 

speech and focussing itself upon her curious intonation. 

But she moved to the fireplace now and bent her back 
over it, striking a little lump of coal with an extremely 
large silver poker. 

"That girl must be sick of admiration," observed 
Wolf, "wouldn't you think so? Her mother must have an 
anxious time." 

"I expect her mother knows how well she can take 
care of herself," retorted Christie, glancing sideways at 
him while she rested on the handle of the poker. A 
couple of thin loose tresses of silky brown hair hung 
down across her brow, her nose, her mouth, her chin, 
giving the impression that she was peering out at him 
through the drooping tendrils of some sort of wild 
vegetation. 

Her remark, as may well be imagined, was not re- 
ceived with any great ardour by her guest. 

"What an expression!" he cried petulantly. "Take care 
of herself! Why the devil shouldn't she lake care of her- 
self?" And it occurred to him to wonder how it was that 
this sophisticated young lady had ever made friends 
with the stone-cutler's daughter. Christie's manners were 
so well-bred that it was difficult to associale her with a 
family like the Torps. 

The girl smiled as she replaced the silver poker by the 
side of the hearth. "Gerda knows well enough that / don't 
worry about her," she said. "Pardon me a minute," she 
added, slipping past him into an alcove that adjoined 
the room. 

Wolf took advantage of her absence to move across to 
a bookshelf which already had attracted his attention. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 119 

What first arrested his interest now was an edition of 
Sir Thomas Browne's "Hydriotaphia, or Urn-Burial." 
He took this book down from the shelf, and was 
dreamily turning its pages, when the girl returned with 
a glass of claret in her hand. Hurriedly replacing the 
book in its place and raising the wine to his lips, he 
could not resist commenting upon some other, more 
abstruse volumes that her bookshelf contained. 

"I see you read Leibnitz, Miss Malakite," he said. 
"Don't you find those 'monads' of his hard to under- 
stand? You've got Hegel there, too, I notice. I've always 
been rather attracted to him though just why, I'd be 
puzzled to tell you." 

He settled himself again in his wicker-chair, wine-glass 
in hand. 

"You're fond of philosophy?" he added, scowling 
amiably at her. His thick eyebrows contracted as he did 
this, and his eyes grew narrow and small. 

She seated herself near him upon the sofa and 
smoothed out her brown skirt thoughtfully with her 
fingers. She was evidently anxious to answer this impor- 
tant question with a becoming scrupulousness. 

With this new gravity upon the features of its mistress, 
it seemed to Wolf as if the little sitting-room itself 
awoke from somnolence and asserted its individuality. He 
observed the unadulterated mid-century style of its cut- 
glass chandeliers, of its antimacassars, of its rosewood 
chairs, of its Geneva clock, and of the heavy gold frames 
of its water-colour pictures. The room, as the morning 
light fell upon these things across the grey slate roofs 
and the yellow pansies in the window-box, certainly did 



120 WOLF SOLENT 

possess a charming character of its own, a character to 
which the thick, dusky carpet and the great mahogany 
curtain-rod across the window gave the final touches. 

"I don't understand half of what I read," Christie be- 
gan, speaking with extreme precision. "All I know is 
that every one of those old books has its own atmosphere 
for me." 

"Atmosphere?" questioned Wolf. 

"I suppose it's funny to talk in such a way," she went 
on, "but all these queer non-human abstractions, like 
Spinoza's 'substance' and Leibnitz's 'monads' and Hegel's 
'idea,' don't stay hard and logical to me. They seem to 
melt." 

She slopped and looked at Wolf with a faint smile, as 
if deprecating her extravagant pedantry. 

"What do you mean melt?" he murmured. 

"I mean as I say," she answered, with a shade of 
querulousness, as if the physical utterance of words were 
difficult to her and she expected her interlocutor to get 
her meaning independently of them. "I mean they turn 
into what I call 'atmosphere.' " 

"The tone of thought," he threw in, "that suits you 
best, I suppose?" 

She looked at him as if she had been blowing soap- 
bubbles and he had thrown his stick at one of them. 

"I'm afraid I'm hopeless at expressing myself," she 
said. "I don't think I regard philosophy in the light of 
'truth' at all." 

"How do you regard it then?" 

Christie Malakite sighed. "There are so many of 
them!" she murmured irrelevantly. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 121 

"So many?" 

"So many truths. But don't tease yourself trying to 
follow my awkward ways of putting things, Mr. Solent." 

"I'm following you with the greatest interest," said 
Wolf. 

"What I mean to say w," she went on, with a little 
gasp, flinging out the words almost fiercely, "I regard 
each philosophy, not as the 'truth,' but just as a particu- 
lar country, in which I can go about countries with 
their own peculiar light, their Gothic buildings, their 

pointed roofs, their avenues of trees But I'm afraid 

I'm tiring you with all this!" 

"Go on, for heaven's sake!" he pleaded. "It's just what 
I want to hear." 

"I mean that it's like the way you feel about things," 
she explained, "when you hear the rain outside, while 
you're reading a book. You know what I mean? Oh, I 
can't put it into words! When you get a sudden feeling of 
life going on outside . . . far away from where you 
sit ... over wide tracts of country ... as if you were 
driving in a carriage and all the things you passed were 
. . . life itself . . . parapets of bridges, with dead 
leaves blowing over them . . . trees at crossroads . . . 
park-railings . . . lamp-lights on ponds. ... I don't 
mean, of course," she went on, "that philosophy is the 

same as life . . . but Oh! Can't you see what I 

mean?" She broke off with an angry gesture of im- 
patience. 

Wolf bit his lip to suppress a smile. At that moment he 
could have hugged the nervous little figure before him. 

"I know perfectly well what you mean," he said 



722 WOLF SOLENT 

eagerly. "Philosophy to you, and to me, too, isn't science 
at all ! It's life winnowed and heightened. It's the essence 
of life caught on the wing. It's life framed . . . framed 
in room-windows ... in carriage-windows ... in mir- 
rors ... in our 'brown-studies,' when we look up from 

absorbing books ... in waking-dreams I do know 

perfectly well what you mean!" 

Christie drew up her feet beneath her on the sofa and 
turned her head, so that all he could see of her face was 
its delicate profile, a profile which, in that particular 
position, reminded him of a portrait of the philosopher 
Descartes! 

He changed the conversation back to himself. "It's 
queer," he remarked, "that I can confide in you so com- 
pletely about Gerda." 

"Why?" she threw out. 

"Don't you see that what I'm admitting is an unscru- 
pulous desire to make love to your young friend?" 

"Oh!" She uttered this exclamation in a faint, medita- 
tive sigh, like a wistful little wind sinking down among 
feathery reeds. "You mean that you might make her un- 
happy?" 

He gave a deprecatory shake of the head. 

"But you leave out so many things in all this," she 
went on. "You leave out the character of Gerda; and you 
leave out your own character, which, for all I know" 
she spoke in a tone whose irony was barely perceptible 
"may be so interesting that the advantage of contact with 
it might even counterbalance your lack of scruple!" 

Wolf withdrew his hands, which were clasped so close 
to Christie's elbows as almost to touch them. He inter- 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 123 

locked his fingers now, round the back of his head, tilt- 
ing his chair a little. "Forgive me, Miss Malakite," he 
said ruefully. "I do blunder into unpardonable lapses 
sometimes. I oughtn't to have said that to you ... so 
bluntly. It's because I seem to have ... a sort of ... 
curiosity. At least I think it's curiosity!" 

"It's all right. Don't you mind!" She spoke these words 
with a tenderness that was as gentle as a caress a caress 
which might have been given to a disgraced animal that 
required reassuring; and as she spoke she leaned for- 
ward and made a little movement of her hand towards 
him. It was the faintest of gestures. Her fingers immedi- 
ately afterwards lay clasped on her lap. But he did not 
miss the movement, and it pleased him well. Another 
thing he did not miss was that under any stress of emo- 
tion a certain wavering shapelessness in her countenance 
disappeared. Mouth, nose, cheeks, chin, all these features, 
chaotic and inchoate when left to themselves, at such mo- 
ments attained a harmony of expression which ap- 
proached, if it did not actually reach, the verge of the 
beautiful. 

Wolf brought down his tilted chair upon the floor with 
a jerk. 

"I'm forgiven then?" he said, and paused foi a second, 
searching gravely in her brown eyes for a clue to her 
secret thoughts. "It must be all those books you read," 
he went on, "that makes you take my scandalous confes- 
sions so calmly." He stopped once more. "I suppose," he 
flung out, "the most amazing perversities wouldn't shock 
you in the least!" As soon as he had uttered these words 
he remembered what Darnley had told him, and he caught 



124 WOLF SOLENT 

his breath in dismay. But Christie Malakite gave no sign 
of being distressed. She even smiled faintly. 

"I don't know," she said, "that it's my readings that 
have made me what I am. In a sense I am conventional. 
You're wrong there. But in another sense I am % . . what 
you might call . . . outside the pale." 

"Do you mean . . . inhuman?" 

She turned this over gravely. 

"I certainly don't like it when things get too human," 
she said. "That's probably why I can't bear the Bible. I 
like to be able to escape into parts of Nature that are 
lovely and cool, untouched and free." 

Wolf nodded sympathetically; but he got up now to 
take his leave, and allowed these words of hers to float 
away unanswered. He allowed them, as he moved to the 
door, to sink down among the old-fashioned furniture 
about her, as if they were a chilly, moonlight dew 
mingling with warm, dusty sun-motes. His final impres- 
sion was that the ancient objects in her room were ponder- 
ing mutely and disapprovingly upon this fragile heathen 
challenge to the anthropomorphism of the Scriptures! 

Once out in the street and strangely enough before his 
mind reverted to Gerda at all Wolf found himself re- 
calling something he had hardly noticed at the time, but 
which now assumed a curious importance. Between the 
pages of the volume of the "Urn-Burial" which he had 
taken down from Christie's shelf, there had lain a grey 
feather. "Her marker, I suppose!" he said to himself, 
as he made his way back to the High Street. 

But soon enough, now, in the hard metallic sunshine 
and the sharp wind, his obsession for the stone-cutter's 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 125 

daughter rose up again and dominated his consciousness. 
With rapid strides he made his way through the chief 
thoroughfares of the town, witnessing on every side atl 
manner of bustling lively preparations for the Saturday 
afternoon's marketing. 

When he was within a few hundred yards of the Torp 
yard, lie glanced at his watch and realized that he was 
still a good deal too early. It would be, he felt, a great 
blunder to present himself at that house, and find no 
Cerda! Looking around for a resting-place, he espied a 
small patch of grass behind some ricketly palings, in the 
centre of which was a stone water-trough. He clambered 
through the palings and sat down on the ground, with his 
back to this object. It was then, as he lit a cigarette, that 
he remembered that he had not yet read his letters. 

He opened them one by one. They were both short. 
Miss Gault's ran as follows 

MY DEAR BOY: 

If I were not so eccentric a person and striking, I may say, in 
more senses than one, I should lake for granted that you had 
forgotten all about me but since I know that both my manners 
and my cats must have made some impression upon you, I am 
not at all afraid of this! I am writing to ask you whether 
you will care to come over to tea with me on Sunday after- 
noon? I will not reveal in advance whether there will be only 
myself and my cats . . . 

Yrs. affectionately, 

SELENA GAULT. 

Mrs. Solent's letter was even more laconic. 

MY DEAREST WOLF: 

Carter has begun to fuss about the rent. What does he think we 
are? And why did you run up that bill at Walpole's? That's the 
one kind of luxury which ought always to be paid for in cash. 
I have refused to pay till the Summer. Better let it be under- 



726 WOLF SOLENT 

stood that you're away on a holiday! I think I shall join you at 
King's Barton quite soon; in fact, as soon as you can assure me 
that you've discovered a clean, small cottage, with a neat, small 
garden. I think it will do me good to do a little gardening. How 
lovely, my dear, it will be to see you again! 

Your loving mother, 

ANN HAGGARD SOLENT. 

Wolf pushed out his under-lip and drew down the 
corners of his mouth, as he replaced these two documents 
in his pocket. Then he got up upon his feet and shivered. 
He looked at his watch again. "I'll go in," he said to 
himself, "when it's five minutes to one." 

He pulled his greatcoat tighter around him, and, re- 
moving his cloth-cap, sat down upon it very gravely, as 
if it had been a wishing-carpet. 

The passers-by upon the pavement hardly turned to 
notice the bareheaded man with an oak-stick across his 
knees. They were Blacksod burgesses and had their own 
affairs to attend to. A tuft of vividly green grass grew 
between some uneven bricks in front of him; and he re- 
garded its sturdy, transparent blades with concentrated 
interest. 

"Grass and clay!" he thought to himself. "From clay 
to grass and then from grass to clay!" And once more 
that peculiar kind of shivering ran through him, which a 
coincidence of physical cold with amorous excitement is 
apt to produce, especially when some fatal step of un- 
known consequence is trembling in suspension. 

And with extraordinary clearness he realized that par- 
ticular moment in the passing of time, as he sat there, 
a hunched-up gaunt figure, wrapped in a faded brown 
overcoat, waiting with a beating heart his entrance to 
the yard of Mr. Torp. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 127 

His mind, after his fashion, conjured up in geograph- 
ical simultaneousness all the scenes around him. He saw 
the long, low ridge of upland, on the east slope of which 
lay the village of King's Barton, and along the top of 
which ran the high-road linking together the scholastic 
retreats of Ramsgard with the shops and tanneries of 
Blacksod. He saw the rich, pastoral Dorsetshire valley on 
his right. He saw the willows and the reeds of the Somer- 
set salt-marshes away there on his left. And it came into 
his mind how strange it was that while he at this moment 
was shivering with amorous expectation at the idea of 
entering that yard of half-made tombstones, far off in the 
Blackmore Vale many old ploughmen, weather-stained 
as the gates they were even now leisurely setting open, 
were moving their horses from one furrowed field to an- 
other after their midday's rest and meal. And probably 
almost all of them had relations who would come to Mr. 
Torp's yard on their behalf one day. 

"I'll go to Miss Gault on Sunday," he said to himself, 
"and I'll look around for a place for mother." 

Swinging his mind from these resolutions with an 
abrupt turn, emphasized by a dagger-like thrust into the 
earth with the end of his stick, he now struggled to his 
feet, and without glancing again at his watch, clambered 
over the palings and strode down the road. 

The appearance of Torp's yard seemed to have changed 
in the night. It looked smaller, less imposing. The head- 
stones themselves looked second-rate; but Wolf, as he 
made for the door, wondered which of them it was that 
had served the girl for a hobby-horse, and this doubt once 
more lent them dignity. 



128 WOLF SOLENT 

He knocked boldly at the door ; but he had time, while 
the vibrations of the sound were dying down, to notice 
that there was a crack in one of the door-panels, and in 
the middle of this crack a tiny globule of dirty paint. 

The door was opened by Mrs. Torp. There they all 
were, just beginning their meal! Gerda was evidently 
disposing of no small helping of Yorkshire pudding. But 
she swallowed her mouthful at one gallant gulp and re- 
garded her admirer with a smile of pleasure. 

The first words uttered by Wolf, when Mrs. Torp had 
shut the door behind him, were directed at the head of 
the family, whose mouth and eyes were simultaneously 
so wide open as to suggest sheer panic. 

"I haven't come about business today. I only happened 
to be passing and I thought I'd look in. Mr. Urquhart 
was very pleased to hear how well you're getting on 
with that monument. I saw him last night." 

Mr. Torp turned his countenance toward his wife, a 
proceeding which seemed to announce to everyone round 
the table that he was too cautious even to commit himself 
to a word, until reassured as to what was expected of 
him. 

"Just passing, and thought to look in," repeated Mrs. 
Torp, avoiding her husband's appeal. 

"We seed three girt woppers down to Willum's Mill. 
We dursn't pull 'em out, cos Mr. Manley his own self 
were casting. He were fishing proper, he were. But 'Bob 
says maybe Mr. Manley won't be at the job, come Mon- 
day. So then us'll try again." 

These hurried words from young Lob eased the at- 
mosphere a little. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 129 

Mrs. Torp looked at the sirloin in front of her husband 
and at the Yorkshire pudding in front of herself. 

"Thought to look in," she repeated, resuming her 
seat. 

Wolf began to feel something of a fool. He also began 
to feel extremely hungry. He laid his hand on the shoul- 
der of the boy, and was on the point of saying something 
about perch and chub, to cover his embarrassment, when 
he detected a quick interchange of glances between mother 
and daughter, followed by the appearance of a faint flush 
on the girl's cheeks. 

"Since you were passing, you'd be best to sit 'ee down 
and take a bit of summat," said the woman reluctantly. 
"Father, cut the young gentleman a slice. Get a plate 
from the dresser, Lob." Thus speaking, she thrust a chair 
beneath the table, with more violence than was necessary, 
and having added a very moderate portion of Yorkshire 
pudding to the immense slice of beef carved by the 
monument-maker, she caught up her own empty plate 
and retired into the scullery. 

When once his guest was seated at the table, between 
the silent Gerda and himself, the obese stone-cutter re- 
laxed into most free pleasantry. 

"Injoy theeself like the wheel at the cistern, be my text, 
Mr. Redfern, I beg pardon, Mr. Solent. The Lord gives 
beef, but us must go to the Devil for sauce, as my grand- 
dad used to murmur. I warrant this meat were well fed 
and well killed, as you might say. 'Tain't always so wi' 
they Darset farmers." 

Wolf listened in silence to these and other similar re- 
marks while he ate his meal. He was so close to Gerda 



130 WOLF SOLENT 

that he could catch the faint susurration of her deep, even 
breathing. 

"I'm glad she doesn't speak," he thought to himself, 
in that sensualized level of consciousness which is just 
below the threshold of mental words; "for unless I could 
talk to her alone " 

"And so thik beast went to the hammer." The thread of 
Mr. Torp's carnivorous discourse had begun to pass 
Wolf by, when the foregoing sentence fell like a veri- 
table pole-axe upon his ear. Like a flash he recalled 
Selena Gault's words outside the slaughter-house. "Damn 
it!" he said to himself. "The woman's right." 

"Be there any apple-tart, Mammie?" cried Lob, in a 
shrill voice. 

The door of the scullery was opened about three inches, 
in which space the beckoning forefinger of Joan Torp 
summoned her son to her side. 

Very slowly the beautiful profile on Wolf's right turned 
towards her father. 

" 'Tisn't no use your coaxing of I, Missie," responded 
the stone-cutter. "What yer Mummie says, yer Mummie 
says. I reckon she's just got enough o' that there pasty to 
comfort Lob. Us and Mr. Redfern must swetten our bel- 
lies by talking sweet; and what's more, my pet, if I don't 
get out in thik yard afore I gets to sleep, there'll be no 
pleasing Squire or Mr. Manley!" 

Saying this, the man rose from his chair, glanced at 
Wolf with a leer like the famous uncle of Cressid, and 
shuffled out of the house, closing the door behind him. 

Wolf and Gerda were left alone, seated side by side in 
uncomfortable silence. He moved his chair back a little 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONC 131 

and glanced toward the scullery-door. The voice of the 
woman and her son reached him in an obscure murmur. 
His eye caught the devastated piece of meat at the end 
of the table and it brought to his mind the terrifying 
story of how the flesh of the Oxen of the Sun uttered 
articulate murmurs as the companions of Odysseus 
roasted it at their impious camp-fire. 

"I must say something," he thought. "This silence is 
beginning to grow comic." 

He began to search his pockets for cigarettes. It seemed 
absurd to ask leave of this young girl, and yet it was 
likely enough that her shrewish mother detested tobacco. 

"You don't mind if I smoke?" he said. 

Gerda smilingly shook her head. 

"I suppose you've often been told that you're as lovely 
as the girl who was the cause of the Trojan War?" 

"What a way of breaking the ice!" he thought to him- 
self, and felt a pang of mental humiliation. "If the wench 
is going to dull my wits to this extent, I'll miss my chance 
and be just where I was yesterday." Under cover of what 
Darnley had called the girl's terrible passivity, which 
was indeed just then like the quiescence of a great un- 
picked white phlox in a sun-warmed garden, he lit his 
cigarette and ransacked his brain for a line of action. 

Desperately he hit upon the most obvious one. "Have 
you got anything to put on within reach?" he whispered 
rapidly. "I want to see something more of you. Let's step 
out while we've got the chance and go for a stroll some- 
where!" 

The girl remained for a moment in motionless jndeci- 
sion, listening intently to the murmuring voices in the 



132 WOLF SOLENT 

scullery. Then, with a grave nod, she rose to her feet and 
stepped lightly to a curtained recess, behind which she 
vanished. Returning in less than a minute she presented 
herself in hat and cloak. 

Wolf, trembling with a nervous excitement that made 
his stomach feel sick, seized his own coat and stick and 
moved boldly to the door. 

"Come on!" he whispered. "Come on!" 

They slipped out together and the girl closed the door 
behind them with cautious celerity. 

The stone-cutter's chisel could be heard in his open 
shed; but his back must have been turned to them, and 
they did not cast a glance in his direction. Into the street 
they passed, Wolf taking care not to let the latch of the 
gate cli'ck. Instinctively he led his captive to the right, 
away from the town. They walked rapidly side by side, 
and Wolf noted with surprise the absence of finery in the 
things worn by his silent companion. The hat was of 
cream-coloured felt surrounded by a blue band; the cloak 
of some soft plain stuff, also cream-coloured. Wolf kept 
walking a good deal faster than circumstances seemed to 
demand, but he repeatedly fancied he heard the light 
steps of the intrusive Lob running in pursuit of them. 

Before long they reached a place where a broad road 
branched to the left at the foot of a considerable hill. 
Wolf had not remembered passing this turn on the pre- 
ceding day; but his attention must have been occupied 
with the row of little villas on the other side. 

Following his instinct again, he turned up this road 
and slackened his pace. Still his companion remained 
perfectly silent; but she appeared quite untroubled by 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 133 

the rapidity of their movement, and she swung along by 
his side lightly and easily, every now and then brushing 
the budding hedge on her right with her bare hand. 

For about half a mile they advanced up the long, 
steady hill, meeting no one and seeing nothing but 
snatches of sloping meadow-land as they passed various 
five-barred gates. 

Then there came a turn to the left, and all of a sudden, 
over a well-worn wooden stile, the top bar of which was 
shiny as a piece of old furniture, they found themselves 
overlooking the whole town of Blacksod, and, away be- 
yond that, the pollard-bordered course of the sluggish 
Lunt, as it crossed the invisible border-line between 
Dorset and Somerset. 

"What do you call this hill, Missie?" he murmured, as 
he recovered his breath. It seemed impertinent to use 
her Christian name quite so quickly; but no stretch of 
politeness could have induced him just then to utter the 
syllable Torp. 

"Babylon Hill," she replied quite naturally and easily; 
for she was less out of breath than he. 

"Babylon? What an extraordinary name!" he cried. 
"Why Babylon?" 

But at that she shrugged her young shoulders and con- 
templated the blue distances of Somersetshire. To her 
mind the extraordinary thing evidently was that anyone 
could be surprised that Babylon Hill was called Babylon 
Hill! 

From the stile over which they were leaning a little 
field-path ran along the sloping greensward and lost 
itself in a small hazel-copse that overshadowed one end 



134 WOLF SOLENT 

of a rounded table-land of turf-covered earthworks. 

"Come on," he cried. "Skip over, child; and let's see 
where that leads!" 

She swung herself across without any assistance, and 
Wolf noticed that in the open country the movements of 
her body were entirely free from languor or voluptu- 
ousness. They became the swift, unconscious movements 
of a very healthy young animal. 

"Has this got any name?" he remarked, as they 
clambered up the turfy slope of the grassy rampart. 

"Poll's Camp," she answered. And then, after a pause, 

"When Poll his rain-cap has got on 
They'll get their drink at Dunderton!" 

She repeated this in the peculiar sing-song drawl of a 
children's game. 

There was something in her intonation that struck Wolf 
as queerly touching. It didn't harmonize with her lady- 
like attire. It suggested the simple finery of a thousand 
West Country fairs. 

"Poll-Poll-Poll," he repeated. And there came over 
him a deep wonder about the origin of this laborious 
piece of human toil. Were they Celts or Romans who 
actually, with their blunt primitive spades, had changed 
the face of this hill? Was this silent beautiful girl be- 
side him the descendant of some Ionian soldier who had 
come in the train of the legionaries? 

Dallying with these thoughts which probably would 
never have come into his head at all, if a certain childish- 
ness in the girl hadn't, in a very subtle manner, lessened 
the bite of his lust Wolf was slower than she in 
reaching the top of the ridge. When he did reach the top, 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 135 

and looked down into the rounded hollow below, he was 
astonished to see no sign of his companion. 

"Good Lord!" he thought, "has she gone round to the 
right or to the left?" 

He ran down into the bottom of the little artificial 
valley and stood hesitating. 

How like a child, to play him a trick of this kind ! 

His thoughts shaped themselves quickly now. His hope 
of finding her depended on how far he could sound her 
basic instincts. If she were of a hare-like nature she would 
double on her tracks, which in this case would mean turn- 
ing to the left or right; if she were of the feline tribe she 
would pursue her course, which in this case would mean 
climbing the opposing earthwork. Wolf turned to the 
right and followed the narrow green hollow as it wound 
round the hill. 

Ah, there she was! 

Gerda lay supine, her arms outstretched, her cream- 
coloured hat clutched tight in one of her hands, her 
knees bare. 

She waited till Wolf was so close that he could see 
that her eyes were shut. Then, catching the vibration of 
his tread upon the turf, she leapt to her feet and was off 
again, running like Aialanta, and soon vanishing from 
sight. Wolf pursued her; but he thought to himself, "I 
won't run quite as fast as I could! She'll better enjoy 
being caught if she has had a good race." 

As a matter of fact, so swift-footed was the damsel 
that by following this method of leisurely pursuit he soon 
lost her altogether. The hollow trench ran straight into 
the heart of a thick coppice which from this point out- 



136 WOLF SOLENT 

wards had overgrown the whole of the camp. Here, in 
the heavy undergrowth, composed of brambles, elder- 
bushes, dead bracken, stunted sycamores, and newly 
budded hazels, all ordinary paths disappeared com- 
pletely. All he could have done was to have followed 
obstinately the bottom of the trench; and that was so 
overgrown that it was unbelievable she should have 
forced a way there. But if he didn't follow the trench, 
where the devil should he go? Where, under the sky, 
had she gone? "The earth hath bubbles as the water 
hath," he quoted to himself, amused, irritated, and com- 
pletely nonplussed. Teased into doing what he knew 
was the last thing calculated to bring her back, he be- 
gan calling her name; at first gently and hesitatingly; 
at last loudly and indignantly. The girl, no doubt pant- 
ing like a hunted fawn somewhere quite close to him, 
must have been especially delighted by this issue to the 
affair; for one of the peculiarities of Poll's Camp was 
the presence of an echo; and now, over and over again, 
this echo taunted him. "Ger-da Ger-da!" it flung across 
the valley. 

He would have been more philosophical at this junc- 
ture if he hadn't, at that brief moment of overtaking her, 
caught sight of those incredibly white knees. But the im- 
patience in his senses was at least mitigated by his ap- 
preciation of the immemorial quality of his pursuit! He 
looked round helplessly and whimsically at the thick 
undergrowth and sturdy hazel-twigs; and he played with 
the fancy that, like another Daphne or Syrinx, his maid 
might have undergone some miraculous vegetable trans- 
formation. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 137 

"Ger da! Ger da!" The echo returned to him again; 
whereupon once more, the image of those bare knees 
destroyed the spirit of philosophical patience. 

But he sat down then, with his back against a young 
sycamore, and lit a cigarette, wrapping his overcoat 
carefully round him and resolving to make the best of a 
bad job. 

"If she has run away from me," he thought, "and just 
gone back to Chequers Street, there's no doubt she'll come 
out with me again. She certainly seemed at ease with 
me." Thus spoke one voice within him. Another voice 
said: "She thinks you're the father of all fools. You'll 
never have the gall to ask her to go out with you again." 
And then as he extinguished his third cigarette against a 
piece of chalk, moving aside the tiny green buds of an 
infinitesimal spray of milkwort, he became aware that 
a blackbird, in the dark twilight of hazel-stems, was 
uttering notes of an extraordinary purity and poig- 
nance. 

He listened, fascinated. That particular intonation of 
the blackbird's note, more full of the spirits of air and of 
water than any sound upon earth, had always possessed 
a mysterious attraction for him. It seemed to hold, in the 
sphere of sound, what amber-paved pools surrounded by 
hart's-tongue ferns contain in the sphere of substance. 
It seemed to embrace in it all the sadness that it is pos- 
sible to experience without crossing the subtle line into 
the region where sadness becomes misery. 

He listened, spellbound, forgetting hamadryads, Daph- 
ne's pearl-white knees and everything. 

The delicious notes hovered through the wood hov- 



138 WOLF SOLENT 

ered over the scented turf where he lay and went waver- 
ing down the hollow valley. It was like the voice of the 
very spirit of Poll's Camp, unseduced by Roman or by 
Saxon, pouring forth to a sky whose peculiar tint of in- 
describable greyness exactly suited the essence of ils 
identity, the happiness of that sorrow which knows 
nothing of misery. Wolf sat entranced, just giving himself 
up to listen; forgetting all else. He was utterly unmusical; 
and it may have been for that very reason thai the quality 
of certain sounds in the world melted the very core of his 
soul. Certain sounds could do it; not very many. But the 
blackbird's note was one of them. And then it was that 
without rising from the ground he straightened his back 
against the sycamore-tree and got furiously red under his 
rugged cheeks. Even his tow-coloured hair, protruding 
from the front of his cap, seemed conscious of his 
humiliation. Waves of electricity shivered through it; 
while beads of perspiration ran down his forehead into 
his scowling eyebrows. 

For he realized, in one rush of shame, that Gerda was 
the blackbird! 

He realized this before she made a sound other than 
that long-sustained tremulous whistle. He realized it in- 
stantaneously by a kind of sudden absolute knowledge, 
like a slap in the face. 

And then, immediately afterwards, she came forward, 
quite calmly and coolly, pushing aside the hazels and the 
elder-bushes. 

He found her a different being, when she stood there 
in front of him, smiling down upon him and removing 
bits of moss and twigs from her hair. She had lost some- 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 139 

thing from the outermost sheath of her habitual reserve; 
and like a plant that has unloosed its perianth she dis- 
played some inner petal of her personality that had, until 
that moment, been quite concealed from him. 

"Gerda!" he exclaimed reproachfully, too disordered 
to assume any sagacious reticence; "how on earth did 
you learn to whistle like that?" 

She continued placidly to clear the wood-rubble out 
of her fair hair; and the only reply she vouchsafed to 
his question was to toss down her cream-coloured hat at 
his feet. 

Very deliberately, when her hair was in order, she 
proceeded to lift up the hem of her skirt and pick out 
the burs from that. Then she quickly turned away from 
him. "Brush my back, will you?" she said. 

He had to get up upon his feet at this; but he obeyed 
her with all patience, carefully removing from the cream- 
coloured jacket every vestige of her escapade. 

"There!" he said, when he had finished; and taking 
her by the shoulders, he swung her around. 

In the very act of doing this he had determined to kiss 
her; but something about the extraordinary loveliness of 
her face, when she did confront him, deterred him. 

This was a surprise to himself at the moment; but 
later, analyzing it, he came to the conclusion that al- 
though beauty, up to a certain point, is provocative of 
lust, beyond a certain point it is destructive of lust; and 
it is this, whether the possessor of such beauty be in a 
chaste mood or not. 

If only so he thought to himself later Gerda's 
face had been a little less flawless in its beauty, the 



140 WOLF SOLENT 

beauty of her body would have remained as maddening to 
his senses as it was at the beginning. But the more he 
had seen of her the more beautiful her face had grown; 
until it had now reached that magical level of loveliness 
which absorbs wilh a kind of absoluteness the whole 
aesthetic sense, paralyzing the erotic sensibility. 

Instead of kissing her he sat down again with his back 
to the sycamore; while Gerda, lying on her stomach at 
his feet, her chin propped upon the palms of her hands, 
began to talk to him in unconscious, easy, almost boyish 
freedom. 

"I wouldn't have run away," she said, "so you 
needn't scold. I would have if it had been anyone else. I 
always do run away. I hide first and then slip off. 
Father's quite tired of seeing me come back into the yard 
after I've started for a walk with someone. That's be- 
cause I always like people at the beginning, when they're 
frightened of me and don't try to touch me. But when 
they slop being frightened, and get familiar, I just hate 
them. Can you understand what I mean, or can't you?"' 

Wolf surveyed the beautiful face in front of him and 
recalled what Darnley had said about the three lovers. 

"But, Gerda " he began. 

"Well?" she said, smiling. "Say it out! I know it's 
something bad." 

"You must have had some love-affairs, being the sort 
of girl you are. You can't make me believe you've always 
run away." 

She nodded her head vigorously. 

"I have," she said. "I have, always. Though the boys I 
know never will believe it. Directly they touch me I run 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 141 

away. I want them to want me. It's a lovely feeling to be 
wanted like that. It's like floating on a wave. But when 
they try any of their games, messing a person about and 
rumpling a person's clothes, I can't bear it. I won't bear 
it, either!" 

Wolf lifted his thick eyebrows and let them fall again, 
wrinkling them so that a great puckered fold established 
itself above his hooked nose. His ruddy face, under its 
rough crop of coarse, bleached hair, resembled a red 
sandstone cliff on the top of which a whitish-yellow 
patch of withered grass bowed before the wind. 

The girl clambered to her feet, and, smoothing out her 
skirt beneath her, sat down on the ground by his side, 
hugging her knees. 

"I found out I could whistle like that," she began 
again, this time in a slow, meditalive voice, "when I 
used to play with Bob in the Lunt ditches, down Long- 
mead. I fooled him endless times doing different birds. 
Listen to this. Do you know what this is?" And with her 
mouth pursed up into the form of a crimson sea-anemone, 
she imitated the cry of the female plover when any 
strange foot, of man or beast, approaches her nest on the 
ground. 

"Wonderful!" cried Wolf, enraptured by that long- 
drawn familiar scream borne away upon the wind. "How 
did you learn to do it?" 

"I fooled Bob with that; but I fooled Dick he was an 
Oxford gentleman with a silly owl's-hooting which old 
Bob would have known at once." 

"Did you let the Oxford gentleman make love to you, 
Gerda?" 



142 WOLF SOLENT 

As soon as he had uttered the words, he felt a sense 
of shame that was like a pricking sore lodged under the 
cell-lobes in the front of his brain. 

"There don't answer!" he whispered hurriedly. "That 
was a gross remark of mine." 

But the half-profile which she had turned upon him 
showed no traces of anger. 

"I tojd you, didn't I?" was all she said. "I ran away. 
I hid. I hid in the hedge under Ramsbottom. Dick was 
furious. He went past me several times. I heard him 
damning me like a serjeant Ramsbottom's miles away. 
We'd taken our lunch. He had to go home without me 
and he told mother. Mother hit me with the broom when 
I got back. Dick was an 'honourable'; so Mother wanted 
me to marry him." 

Wolf was reduced to silence. He watched the flutter- 
ings of a greenfinch over some young elder-bush saplings. 
Then he turned towards her and spoke with solemn em- 
phasis. 

"I wish you'd make that blackbird-noise for me now, 
Gerda." 

He detected from her expression that this was a crisis 
between them. Her smile was suspended and hung like a 
faltering wraith over every feature of her face. She 
seemed to hesitate; and her hesitation brought a depth 
into her eyes that darkened their colour so that they be- 
came a deep violet. 

"I've never once whistled for anybody," she said 
slowly. 

Wolf sent a wordless cry of appeal down into the 
abysses of his consciousness. They were ready to help 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 143 

him, those powers in the hidden levels of his being. They 
responded to his cry and he knew that they responded. 
In the repetition of his request there was a magnetic 
tone of power that reassured himself. 

"Come on, Gerda!" he said. "That's all the more rea- 
son. Come on! Whistle that song!" 

Turning her face away from him, so that he could see 
nothing of her mouth, she began at once. 

He could hardly believe his ears. It was like a miracle. 
It was as if she had swiftly summoned one of those 
yellow-beaked birds out of its leafy retreat. It seemed 
easier that a bird should be decoyed out of a wood than 
that a human throat should utter actual unmistakable 
bird-notes. 

"Go on! Go on!" cried Wolf, in an ecstasy of pleasure, 
the moment there was any cessation of this stream of cool, 
liquid, tremulous melody. 

Over the turf-ramparts of Poll's Camp it swelled and 
sank, that wistful, immortal strain. Away down .the grassy 
slopes it floated forth upon the March wind. No conceiv- 
able sky but one of that particular greyness could have 
formed the right kind of roof for the utterance of this 
sound. Wolf cared nothing that the whistler kept her 
face turned aside as she whistled. He gave himself up so 
completely to the voice, that the girl Gerda became no 
more than a voice herself. At length it did really cease, 
and silence seemed to fall down upon that place like 
large grey feathers from some inaccessible height. 

Both the man and the girl remained absolutely motion- 
less for a while. 

Then Gerda leapt to her feet. 



144 WOLF SOLENT 

"Let's go down to Longmead and watch the water-rats 
swim the Lunt!" she cried. "We can get down there from 
here easily. There's a lovely little field-path I know. And 
we shan't meet anyone; for Bob and Lobbie are going to 
Willum's Mill." 

Wolf rose stiffly. He had sat so long in petrified de- 
light that he was a little cramped. His mind felt drugged 
and cramped too, and felicitously stupid. 

"Wherever you like, Gerda dear," he said, looking at 
her with hypnotized admiration. 

She took him by the hand, and together they climbed 
the embankment. 

The wind was gentler now, and a very curious diffu- 
sion of thin, watery, greenish light seemed to have melted 
into the grey stretches of sky above their heads. The im- 
mense Somersetshire plain, with patches of olive-green 
marsh-land and patches of moss-green meadow-land, lost 
itself in a pale, sad horizon, where, like a king's sepul- 
chre, rose the hill-ruin of Glastonbury. The path by which 
Gerda guided him down to the valley was indeed an ideal 
one for two companions who desired no interruption. 
Starting from a pheasants' "drive" in the lower half of 
the hazel-copse, it wound its way down the incline along 
a series of grassy terraces dotted by patches of young 
bracken-fronds that had only very recently sprouted up 
among the great dead brown leaves. 

Arrived at the foot of the hill, they struck a narrow 
cattle-drove where the deep winter-ditches were still full 
of water and where huge half-fallen willow-trunks lay 
across old lichen -covered palings. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 145 

Advancing up this lane hand in hand with his compan- 
ion, Wolf felt his soul invaded by that peculiar kind of 
melancholy which emanates, at the end of a spring day, 
from all the elements of earth and water. It is a sadness 
unlike all others, and has perhaps some mysterious con- 
nection with the swift, sudden recognition, by myriads and 
myriads of growing things, of the strange fatality that 
pursues all earthly life, whether clothed in flesh or 
clothed in vegetable fibre. It is a sadness accentuated by 
grey skies, grey water, and grey horizons; but it does 
not seem to attain its most significant meaning until the 
pressure of the Spring adds to these elemental wraiths 
the intense wistfulness of young new life. 

It seemed to Wolf, as they plodded along side by side 
through that muddy lane, that the light-green buds of 
those aged willow-trunks were framed in a more ap- 
propriate setting under that cold forlorn sky than any 
sunshine could give to them. Later seasons would warm 
them and cherish them. November rains would turn them 
yellow and bring them down into the mud. 

But no other sky would hang above them with the 
cold floating weight of sadness as this one did a weight 
like a mass of grey seaweed beneath a silent sea. No 
other sky would be cold enough and motionless enough to 
actually listen to the rising of the green sap within them, 
that infinitesimal flowing, flowing, flowing, that for non- 
human ears must have made strange low gurglings and 
susurrations all day long. 

At last they came to the bank of the river Lunt. 

"Hush!" whispered Gerda. "Don't make a noise! It's 



146 WOLF SOLENT 

so lovely when you can make a water-rat flop in and see 
it swim across." 

It was along the edge of a small tributary full of 
marsh-marigolds that they approached the river-bank. 
Gerda was so impatient to hear a water-rat splash that 
she scarcely glanced at these great yellow orbs rising 
from thick, moist, mud-stained stalks and burnished 
leaves; but to Wolf, as he passed them by, there came 
rushing headlong out of that ditch, like an invisible 
company of tossing-maned air-horses, a whole wild herd 
of ancient memories ! Indescribable! Indescribable! They 
had to do with wild rain-drenched escapes beneath banks 
of sombre clouds, of escapes along old backwaters and 
by forsaken sea-estuaries, of escapes along wet, deserted 
moor-paths and by sighing pond-reeds; along melancholy 
quarry-pools and by quagmires of livid moss. Indescrib- 
able! Indescribable! But memories of this kind were 
and he had long known it! the very essence of his life. 
They were more important to him than any outward 
event. They were more sacred to him than any living 
person. They were his friends, his gods, his secret reli- 
gion. Like a mad botanist, like a crazed butterfly- 
collector, he hunted these filmy growths, these wild 
wanderers, and stored them up in his mind. For what 
purpose did he store them -up? For no purpose! And 
yet these things were connected in some mysterious way 
with that mythopoeic fatality which drove him on and 
on and on. 

"There's one! There's one! There's one! Oh, throw 
something to make it go faster. Throw something! Quick! 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 147 

Quick! Quick! No I don't mean to hit it. I don't mean 
to hurt it. To make it swim faster! There! I can't throw 
straight. Oh, do look at its head breathing and puffing! 
Oh, what ripples it makes!" 

Conjured in this way to join in this sport, Wolf did 
pick up an enormous piece of wet mud and hurled it in 
the trail of the swimming rat. 

The muddy ripples from this missile came rushing up 
behind that pointed little head, came splashing against 
those pointed little ears. Gerda clasped her hands. 
"Swim! Swim! Swim!" she called out; and then in her 
excitement she pouted her mouth into a reed-mouth and 
uttered a long, strange, low, liquid cry that was like no 
sound Wolf had ever heard in his life. 

"It's gone! It's done it!" she sighed at last, when the 
rat, emerging from the water without so much as one 
shake of its sleek sides, slid off along its mud-channel to 
its bed in the reed-roots. "It's gone! And you did make it 
swim! I liked to see it. Let's go rat-swimming often. It's 
wonderful!" 

She began walking along the river-bank in the direc- 
tion leading away from Blacksod, gazing intently and 
rapturously at the sluggish brown stream. 

Wolf followed her, but he surreptitiously glanced at 
his watch, and discovered, as he suspected, that it was 
already late in the afternoon. 

"You can't tell when twilight begins," he thought to 
himself, "when the sky is all twilight." 

"Hush!" The sound reached him rather by implication 
than by ear. But the girl had crouched down under an 



148 WOLF SOLENT 

overhanging alder and was staring at the water, her 
long cream-coloured arms supporting half the weight of 
her body. 

He sat down himself and waited patiently. It satisfied 
his nature with an ineffable satisfaction to watch that 
steady flow of the brown water, gurgling round the 
willow-roots and the muddy concavities of the bank. He 
felt glad that the Lunt, where he was now watching it, 
had left the town behind and was now to meet with 
nothing else really contaminating until it mingled with 
the Bristol Channel. He had already begun to feel a 
peculiar personal friendliness toward this patient muddy 
stream; and it gave him pleasure to think that its 
troubles were really over, when itself might so easily be 
fearing another Blacksod somewhere between these green 
meadows and the salt sea to which it ran! Looking quite 
as intently at these brown waters as Gerda herself was 
doing, it occurred to him how different a thing the per- 
sonality of a river is from the personality of a sea. The 
water of the sea, though broken up into tides and waves, 
really remains the same identical mass of waters ; whereas 
the water of a river is at every succeeding moment a com- 
pletely different body. No particles of it are ever the same, 
unless they get waylaid in some side-stream or ditch or 
weir. 

Wolf tried to visualize the whole course of the Lunt, 
so as to win for it some sort of coherent personality. 
By thinking of all its waters togetlier, from start to 
finish, this unity could be achieved; for between the 
actual water before him now, into which he could thrust 
his hand, and the water of that tiny streamlet among the 



THE BLACKBIRDS SONG 149 

mid-Dorset hills from which it sprung, there was no 
spacial gap. The one flowed continuously into the other. 
They were as completely united as the head and tail of 
a snake! The more he stared at the Lunt the more he liked 
the Lunt. He liked its infinite variety; the extraordinary 
number of its curves and hollows and shelving ledges 
and pools and currents; the extraordinary variety of 
organic patterns in the roots and twigs and branches and 
land-plants and water-plants which diversified its course. 

While he was thinking all this he had turned his atten- 
tion away from Gerda; but now, glancing up the river, 
he was struck by a gleam of living whiteness amid the 
greenery. The huntress of water-rats had slipped off her 
shoes and stockings and was dabbling her bare feet in the 
chilly brown water. Her face was bent down. She was not 
being provocative this time. He felt sure of that. Or, if so, 
the provocation was directed to something older and less 
rational than the senses of man. She was giving way to 
some immemorial girlish desire to expose warm, naked 
limbs to the cold embraces of the elements. 

He rose to his feet, and, moving slowly up to her side, 
sat down by her. He was struck by the fact that she made 
no movement to pull her skirts down over her knees. But 
once again he was made aware, he could not quite tell 
how, that there was no provocation in this. She had in- 
deed, as Darnley had said, something of the "terrible pas- 
sivity" of the famous daughter of Leda. Certainly Wolf 
had never seen, in picture, in marble, or in life, anything 
as flawless as the loveliness thus revealed to him. It was 
amazing to him that she did not shiver with the cold. The 
whole scene, as the hour of twilight grew near, had that 



150 WOLF SOLENT 

kind of unblurred enamelled distinctness such as one 
sees in the work of certain old English painters. The 
leaf-buds of the alder under which she sat were of that 
shade of green that seems to have something almost un- 
natural in its metallic opacity; and the line of southern 
sky against which the opposite bank was outlined was of 
that livid steel-grey which seems to hold within it a 
suppressed whiteness, like the whiteness of a sword that 
lies in shadow. 

"You're sure you're not cold?" Wolf asked. 

"Of course I'm cold, silly! I'm doing this to feel 
cold!" 

"What a sensualist you are!" 

"Better say nothing if you can't say anything nicer 
than that." 

"Gerda." 

"Well?" 

"Have you enjoyed yourself today?" 

"What do you mean?" 

"Have you been happy today?" 

She did not answer. 

All about those white ankles and those white knees the 
greenness of the earth gathered the greyness of the sky 
descended. It was as if such vague non-human powers, 
made up of green shadows and grey shadows, drew the 
girl back and away back and away from all his human 
words, back and away from all his personal desires. 

Commonplace and irrelevant seemed both his senti- 
ment and his cunning in the face of these two great 
silent Presences that of the earth and that of the sky 
which were closing in upon her and upon himself. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 151 

But it was getting too cold. He must make her put on 
her things and come home. 

"That's enough now," he said. "On with your stockings, 
like a good girl. I don't know when your people expect 
you back; but anyhow I mustn't keep Mrs. Otter waiting." 

He took her by the wrist and pulled her up the bank. 
Then he began vigorously rubbing her ice-cold ankles 
with his hands. 

"You do take care of me nicely," she said, when 
finally he pulled her frock over her knees and smoothed 
out the wrinkles from her cream-coloured coat. "Bob 
never used to stop for a minute. He was always doing 
up his tackle or washing his fish or something. And if I 
did ask him to stop he thought I wanted him to mess 
me about you know? when it was only, like now, that 
I just couldn't get my boots on! They get so stiff and 
funny when you take them off. I never understand why." 

But Wolf's mind was in no mood to deal with the 
abstract problem of damp leather. He was wondering in 
his heart whether Gerda's mania for water-rats had any- 
thing to do with the close resemblance between Mr. Wee- 
vil and these harmless rodents. 

"What we've got to think about now," he said, "is the 
shortest way to Blacksod." 

"Oh, don't worry! We can be at my house in three- 
quarters of an hour and then you can take the short-cut 
to Barton." 

Wolf was very much struck by the competent geo- 
graphical skill with which she now proceeded to guide 
him, over hedge and over ditch, until they reached a 
navigable lane. 



152 WOLF SOLENT 

"We'll be home in half an hour now," she said, and the 
two walked rapidly side by side- between the cold, fresh 
shoots of the hawthorn-hedges and the. dark sheen of the 
celandine-leaves. 

"I think I'd be all right now, married to you" said 
Gerda, suddenly. 

She made the remark in as unemotional and matter-of- 
fact a tone as if she had said, "I think I'd be all right now 
if I used low-heeled boots." 

In that chilly twilight, with the white mist rising 
around them, everything seemed so phantasmal, that this 
surprising observation gave him no kind of shock. But 
he did remember how startled he had felt when Christie 
Malakite introduced the same idea. 

"I wonder how I should feel married to you!" mur- 
mured Wolf in response, deliberately putting a nuance 
of irresponsible lightness into his tone. 

"I think we'd get on splendidly," she retorted, with 
an emphasis that was more boyish than girlish. They 
walked for a while in silence after this, and Wolf became 
vividly aware how completely a definite responsible 
project of such a kind tended to break the delicious spell 
of care-free intimacy. It broke it for him, anyway. But it 
must have been just the reverse with her. The beauty of 
the situation with her evidently had to find its justifica- 
tion in some continuity of events beyond the mere pleas- 
ure of the passing moment. 

But it was impossible to prevent his thoughts hovering 
round this bold idea, now it had been flung into the air. 
Christie Malakite had been the first to toss the fatal little 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 153 

puffball upon the wind. She had done it with the utmost 
gravity, the gravity of some remote being altogether out- 
side the stream of events. He remembered the peculiar 
steady look of her brown eyes as she uttered the words. 
But that this airy nothing of speculation should have re- 
ceived a new impetus from Gerda herself was another 
matter. He began to wonder what kind of relations ex- 
isted between these two young girls. 

Splashing up the water from a puddle on his right 
with the end of his stick, he hazarded a direct question 
on this point. 

"I had tea yesterday with Christie Malakite," he said, 
"and she told me she was a friend of yours. I liked her so 
very much." 

"Oh, I shan't ever be jealous of Christie!" was his 
companion's reply to this. "I don't care if you have tea 
with Christie every day of your life. She's for no man, as 
the game says." 

"What game, Gerda?" 

"Oh, don't you know? That old game! Kids play it to- 
gether. We called it 'Boys and Girls'; but likely enough 
where you come from they call it something else! But it's 
the same old game, I reckon." 

"Why do you say Christie Malakile's 'for no man,' 
Gerda?" 

"Don't ask so many questions, Mr. Wolf Solent. 
That's your fault asking questions! That's what'll make 
me cross when we're married, more than anything 
else." 

"But it's such a queer expression 'She's for no man/ 



154 WOLF SOLENT 

Does it mean she's got lovers who aren't human? Does 
it mean she's got demon lovers?" 

He spoke in a mocking, exaggerated manner, and his 
lone was irritating to his companion. 

"Men think too much of themselves," she replied 
laconically. "I like Christie very much and she likes me 
very much." 

This silenced Wolf; and they walked together in less 
harmony than at any previous moment in that after- 
noon. 

They hit the town by a narrow alley between the town- 
hall and Chequers Street. Wolf looked at his watch 
and compared it with the town-hall clock. It was a quarter 
past six. There was still plenty of time for him to reach 
Pond Cottage before eight, when the Otters dined. 

They drifted slowly down Chequers Street, Gerda mak- 
ing all manner of quaint, humorous remarks about the 
people and things they passed; and yet, through it all, 
Wolf was perfectly aware that she had not forgiven him 
the hard, frivolous tone he had adopted about her friend. 
That she was able to chatter and delay as she was now 
doing had something magnanimously pathetic and even 
boyish about it. Most girls, as he well knew, would have 
punished him for the little discordance between them by 
hurrying home in silence and shutting him out without 
the comfort of any further appointments. To act in any 
other way would have seemed to such minds to be lack- 
ing in proper pride. But Gerda appeared to have no 
pride at all in this sense. Or was it that her pride was 
really something that actually did resemble that high, 
passive nonchalance which permitted the old classical 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 155 

women to speak of themselves quite calmly, as if they 
were external to themselves; as if they saw their life as 
an irresponsible fate upon which they could, as it were, 
lie back without incurring any human blame? 

They said good-bye at the gate of Torp's yard; and 
when Wolf enquired how soon he could see her again, 
"Oh, any day you like, except tomorrow and Monday," 
she replied. "I've enjoyed myself very much," she added, 
as she held out her hand. "I'm glad you made me 
go." 

Wolf was on the point of asking her what her engage- 
ments were on Sunday and Monday; but he thought bet- 
ter of it in time, and taking off his cap and waving his 
stick he turned and strode away. 

It was very nearly dark when the last little villa on the 
King's Barton road was left behind. 

He walked slowly forward under a starless sky, revolv- 
ing his adventure. He recognized clearly enough that his 
first infatuation had changed its quality not a little. 
Gerda was now not only a maddeningly desirable girl. 
She was a girl with a definite personality of her own. 
That bird-like whistling! Never had he known such a 
thing was possible! It accounted as nothing else could do 
for her queer, unembarrassed silences. In fact, it was the 
expression of her silences and not only of hers ! It was, 
as he recalled its full effect upon him, the expression of 
just those mysterious silences in Nature which all his 
life long he had, so to speak, waited upon and wor- 
shipped. That strange whistling was the voice of those 
green pastures and those blackthorn-hedges, not as they 
were when human beings were conscious of them, but as 



756 WOLF SOLENT 

they were in that indescribable hour just before dawn, 
when they awoke in the darkness to hear the faint, faint 
stirrings upon the air of the departing of the non- 
human powers of the night! 

He was so absorbed in his thoughts that it was with 
quite a startled leap of the heart that he became conscious 
of hurried, uneven steps behind him. What kind of steps 
were they? They didn't sound like the steps of a 
grown-up person either man or woman they were so 
light in the dark road. And yet somehow they didn't re- 
semble the footsteps of a child. Wolf became aware of an 
odd feeling of uneasiness. With all his habitual mysticism 
he was a man little subject to what are called psychic im- 
piessions. Yet on this occasion he could not help a some- 
what discomfortable beating of his heart. The last thing 
he desired was to be overtaken by something unearthly 
on that pleasant Dorset road! Had the extraordinary 
phenomenon of the girl's whistling unsettled his nerves 
more than he realized? 

His first simple and cowardly instinct was to quicken 
his own steps. In fact, it was with a quite definite effort 
that he prevented himself from setting off at a run! What 
was it? Who was it? He listened intently as he walked; 
and this listening in itself induced him to diminish his 
speed rather than to increase it. 

At last the mysterious maker of this uncertain wavering 
series of footsteps arrived close at his heels. 

Wolf swung round, grasping his stick tightly. Nothing 
on earth could have prevented a certain strained un- 
naturalness in his voice as he challenged this pursuer. 

"Hullo! "he cried. 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 157 

There was no answer, and the figure came steadily 
along till it was parallel with him. 

Then he did, in a rush of relief, recognize this night- 
walker's identity. 

Even in the darkness he recognized that shabby, derelict 
personality he had seen in the street with Lob Torp the 
day before. It was the Vicar of King's Barton ! 

He was surprised afterwards at this sudden recognition ; 
though it was not the only occasion in his life when he 
had used a kind of sixth sense. 

But whatever may have been its cause, Wolf's clair- 
voyance on this occasion was not shared by his over- 
taker. 

"It ... is ... very . . . dark . . . tonight," said 
the clergyman, in a voice so husky and hoarse that it 
resembled the voice attributed to the discomposed visage 
of the King of Chaos by the poet Milton. 

Wolf's own voice was quite natural now. 

"So dark that I took you for some kind of ghost," he 
said grimly. 

"Hee! Hee! Hee!" The Vicar laughed with the laugh 
of a man who makes a mechanical, appreciative noise. 
This hollow sound would doubtless have passed harm- 
lessly enough in the daylight. In the darkness it was 
ghastly. 

"You came up very quickly," remarked Wolf. "You 
must be a good walker, Mr. Valley." 

"Who ... are ... you ... if ... you . . . don't 
. . . mind . . . my . . . asking?" 

"Not at all, Mr. Valley. I am the new secretary at the 
Squire's." 



158 WOLF SOLENT 

The man stopped dead-still in the road; and, in 
natural politeness, Wolf stopped too. 

"You are ... the ... other . . . one . . . Then . . . 
I ... must ... see you later ... I buried him. 
... I said prayers for him every day ... He ... 
was . . . very kind to me. I must see you . . . 
later. . . ." Having uttered these words, the Vicar 
seemed to gather up out of the dark some new kind of 
strength; for he moved forward by Wolf's side with a 
firmer step. 

For nearly half a mile they walked side by side in 
silence. 

Then the quavering voice out of the obscurity began 
again. 

"Valley ... is my name. . . . You've got it quite 
right. T. E. Valley. ... I ... drink more than's good 
for me. ... I'm a little drunk tonight ... but you'll 
excuse me. In the dark it isn't noticeable. But you're 
quite right. T. E. Valley is quite right. I was in the 
Eleven at Ramsgard. ... I play still. ... I play with 
the boys. . . ." 

Once more there was no sound but that of the two 
men's feet in the road and the thud thud thud of 
Wolf's stick. 

Then the voice recommenced. "The poor people here 
are very kind to me ... very kind to T. E. Valley. But 
for the rest . . ." 

He again stopped dead-still in the road and Wolf 
stopped with him. 

"For the rest . . . except . . . Darnley . . . they are 



THE BLACKBIRD'S SONG 159 

all ... You won't tell them, will you? They are all 
devils! Devils! Devils!" His voice rose in a kind of 
helpless fury. Then, after a moment's pause: "But they 
can't hurt T. E. Valley. None of 'em can . . . drunk or 
sober . . . and that's because I'm God's Priest in this 
place. . . . God's Priest, Sir! However you like to 
take it!" 

This final outburst seemed to restore the shadowy little 
man to his senses; for until Wolf brought him to the gate 
of the Vicarage and bade him farewell there, his words 
became steadily more coherent his intonation more 
normal and more sober. 

The door of Pond Cottage was opened for Wolf by 
Dimity Stone. 

"I've kept dinner back till it's as good as ruined," 
grumbled the old woman. 

"Where are " Wolf began. 

"In there . . . waiting!" she answered, as she moved 
off. 

He opened the drawing-room door. 

"I am so very sorry, Mrs. Otter," he said humbly. 

They all rose from their seats; but it was Jason who 
spoke first. 

"Everything's only waiting," he chuckled grimly. 
"That sofa is a better place for waiting than a head- 
master's study!" 

"My son doesn't mean that you've kept us a minute," 
said Mrs. Otter. "Dimity's only just ready. But we'll sit 
down at the table while you wash your hands; so that 
you can feel quite happy." 



160 WOLF SOLENT 

"Don't be long, Solent!" cried Darnley, as Wolf turned 
to go upstairs. "Mother won't let us touch a morsel till 
you come." 

As he entered his bedroom he heard Mrs. Otter's 
voice. "Dimity! Dimity! We're quite ready!" And then, 
just as he was closing the door, he caught something 
about "these secretaries" from Jason. 



BAR SINISTER 



OREAKFAST IN POND COTTAGE ON THAT SUNDAY MORNING 
proved to be the pleasantest meal that Wolf had yet en- 
joyed under the Otter roof. 

Mrs. Otter, dressed in stiff puce-coloured silk, and happy 
to have both her sons at the table, spoke at some length to 
their guest about the morning service in the church to which 
she and Darnley were presently to go. She explained to 
him how much she liked the quiet, reverent manner in 
which Mr. Valley conducted the worship of the parish. 

"He makes me sad at other times," she said. "He's an 
unhappy little man; and everyone knows how he drinks. 
He ought to have a wife to look after him, or at least a 
housekeeper. He's got no one in the house. How he gets 
enough to eat I can't imagine." 

"Mother thinks no household can get on for a day 
without a woman in it," said Darnley. . 

Jason Otter's pallid face reddened a little. "Of course, 
we know he wants to be the only man that any of the 
village-boys admire. It's human nature that's what it is. 
These country clergymen are all the same." 

"There are the bells!" cried Mrs. Otter, thankful for 
the opportunity of staving off discord between the 
brothers. They all four listened in silence, while the faint 
notes from the Henry the Seventh tower penetrated the 
walls of Pond Cottage. 

"That means it's ten o'clock," said Darnley. "They 
ring again at half-past, don't they, Mother?" 



162 WOLF SOLENT 

Wolf felt an extraordinary sense of peacefulness in the 
air that morning. The sound of the bells accentuated it; 
and he wondered vaguely to himself whether he wouldn't 
offer to go to church with the mother and the son. 

"By the way," he remarked, "may I ask you people a 
question, while I think of it?" 

They all three awoke from their individual medita- 
tions and gave him their undivided attention. Mrs. Otter 
did this with serene complacency, evidently assuming 
that the nature of his remark would prove harmless and 
agreeable. Jason did it with nervous concern, touched 
with a flicker of what looked like personal fear. Darnley 
did it with an expression of weary politeness, as much as 
to say, "Oh, God! Oh, God! Am I not going to have even 
Sunday free from other people's problems?" 

"It's a simple enough thing," Wolf said quickly, 
realizing that he had made more stir than he intended. 
"I only wanted to know why this house of yours is 
called Pond Cottage, when there's no trace of a pond." 

There was an instantaneous sign of startled agitation 
all the way round the table. 

"The pond is there all right," said Darnley, quietly. 
"It's over that hedge, just outside our gate, the other 
side of the lane. It's rather an uncomfortable topic with 
us, Solent; because at least three times James Redfern 
thought of drowning himself in it. He may have thought 
of it more times than that. Jason found him there three 
times. We don't like the pond for that reason. That's 
all!" 

Jason Otter got up from his chair. "I'll go and put on 



BAR SINISTER 163 

my boots," he remarked to Wolf, "and we'll go and 
visit the pond. You ought to see it. And there are other 
things I can show you, too, while mother and Darnley 
are in church. You've got your boots on, I think? Well! 
I won't keep you very long." 

He left the room as he spoke and Mrs. Otter looked 
appealingly at her younger son. 

"Don't worry, Mother dear," said Darnley, gravely, 
laying his hand upon her knees. 

He turned to Wolf. "You must help us in keeping my 
brother in good spirits, Solent," he said. "But I know 
I can trust you." 

When Wolf and Jason did finally cross the lane to- 
gether and enter the opposite field which they achieved 
by climbing up a steep bank and pushing their way 
through a gap in the hedge the sense of peacefulness in 
the whole air of the place had intensified to a degree that 
was so enchanting to Wolf that nothing seemed able to 
disturb his contentment. 

The field he found himself in was a very large one, and 
only a broken, wavering line of willows and poplars at 
the further end of it gave any indication of the presence 
of water. The atmosphere was deliciously hushed and 
misty; no wind was stirring; and the placid morning sun 
fell upon the grass and the trees with a sort of largeness of 
indifference, as if it were too happy, in some secretive 
way of its own, to care whether its warmth gave pleasure 
or the reverse to the lives that thrived under its influ- 
ence. It seemed to possess the secret of complete detach- 
ment, this sunshine; but it seemed also to possess the 



164 WOLF SOLENT 

secret of projecting the clue to such detachment into the 
heart of every living existence that its vaporous warmth 
approached. 

Wolf was suddenly aware of a rising to the surface of 
his mind of that trance-like "mythology" of his. All the 
little outward things that met his gaze seemed to form so 
many material moulds into which this magnetic current 
set itself to run. 

He surveyed a patch of sun-dried cattle-dung upon 
which the abstracted Jason had inadvertently planted his 
foot and across which was slowly moving with exquisite 
precaution a brilliantly green beetle. He surveyed a 
group of small crimson-topped daisies over which a 
sturdy, flowerless thistle threw a faint and patient 
shadow. He surveyed the disordered flight of a flock of 
starlings, heading away from the pond towards the vil- 
lage. But of all these things what arrested him most was 
the least obvious, the least noticeable. It was, in fact, 
no more than a certain ridge of rough unevenness in the 
ground at his feel; a nameless unevenness, which as- 
sumed, as the misty sunlight wavered over it, the pre- 
dominant place in this accidental pattern of impressions. 

Jason said nothing at all as they walked together slowly 
across the field. The man had ostentatiously avoided any 
approach to Sunday clothes that morning; and, without 
hat or stick, in a very shabby overcoat, he presented 
rather a lamentable figure, as he led the way forward to- 
wards Lenty Pond. 

They reached the willows and poplars at last; and 
Wolf stared in astonishment at what he saw. He found 
himself standing on the brink of an expanse of water 



BAR SINISTER 165 

that was nearly as large as a small lake. The opposite 
side of it was entirely covered with a bed of thick reeds, 
among which he could see the little red-and-black shapes 
of several moor-hens moving; but from where he stood, 
under these willows, right away to the pond's centre, the 
water was deep and dark, and even on that placid Sunday 
a little menacing. 

"He could have done it easily if he'd wanted to, 
couldn't he?" said Jason, gazing at the water. "The truth 
is he didn't want to! Darnley's a sentimental fool. Red- 
fern didn't want to drown himself. Not a bit of it. What 
did he come here for, then? He came to rouse pity, to 
make people's minds go crazy with pity." 

"The man must have been thinking of saying just this 
to me all the way across the field," thought Wolf. But 
Jason jerked out now a much more disturbing sentence. 

"The boy did upset one person's mind. He made one 
person's mind feel like a weed in this water! And you'd 
be surprised to hear who that person was." 

But Wolf just then felt it very hard to give him his 
complete attention. For although the mystical ecstasy he 
had just experienced had faded, everything about the day 
had become momentous in his hidden secretive life; and 
he felt detached, remote, disembodied, for all his Sunday 
clothes. He could hear the cawing of a couple of rooks 
high up in the sky; and even when they ceased cawing, 
the creaking of their wings seemed like the indolence 
of the very day itself. "A weed in the water," he echoed 
mechanically; while his mind, voyaging over those 
hushed West Country pastures, followed the creaking 
wings. 



766 WOLF SOLENT 

"Who was it, Mr. Otter, who was so upset by Red- 
fern?" 

The appeal in Jason's miserable eyes grew still more 
disturbing. The man's soul seemed to come waveringly 
forward, like a grey vapour, out of its eye-sockets, till it 
formed itself into a shadowy double of the person who 
stood by Wolf's side. 

"Can't you guess?" murmured Jason Otter. "It was I 
... I ... I ... You're surprised. Well, anyone would 
be. You wouldn't have thought of that, though you are 
Mr. Urquhart's secretary and have come from a college! 
But you needn't look like that; for it's true! Darnley 
sentimentalizes about his death, which was unfortunate, 
of course, but perfectly natural he died of pneumonia, 
as any of us might! but what drove me to distraction 
was this playing upon a person's pity. He always did it 
from the very first day. Darnley yielded to it at once, 
though he never liked the boy. I resisted it. I am of iron 
in these things. I know too much. But by degrees, can't 
you understand, though I didn't yield to it, it began to 
bother my mind. Pity's the most cruel trap ever invented. 
You can see that, I suppose? Take it that there were only 
one unhappy person left, why, it might spoil all the de- 
light in the world ! That is why I'd like to kill pity why 
I'd like to make people see what madness it is." 

Wolf drew away from him a step or two, till he stood 
at the very edge of the pond, and then he remarked 
abruptly, "Your mother told me that Redfern was one of 
the most good-looking young men she has ever seen." 

Having flung out these words, he began flicking the 
dark, brimming water with the end of his stick, watching 



BAR SINISTER 167 

the ripples which he caused spreading far out towards the 
centre. Exactly why he made that remark just then he 
would have found it hard to explain. The wraith-like 
phantom-soul that had emerged from Jason's eye-sockets 
drew back instantaneously, like a puppet pulled by a 
string; and over the two apertures into which it with- 
drew there formed a glacial film of guarded suspicion. 

"/ have seen better-looking ones," said Jason Otter 
drily. "He used to help that fool Valley in his High 
Church services. I don't know whether the Virgin Mary 
ever appeared to him; but I know he used to take her 
flowers, because he used to steal them out of our garden! 

My mother let him steal because it was Hullo! 

What's up now? Who's this?" 

Wolf swung round and observed to his surprise the 
tall figure of Roger Monk advancing towards them across 
the field. 

"It's something for you. It's something about you," 
said Jason, hurriedly. "I think I'll walk round the pond." 

"Why do that?" protested Wolf. "There'll be no secret 
about it, even if it is for me." 

"He'll like to find you alone best. These servants of 
these landowners always do," replied the other. "Besides, 
Mr. Urquhart hates me. He knows I know what he is. 
He's not a common kind of fool. He likes having good 
meals and good wine, but he's ready to risk all that for I 
don't know what!" 

"I tell you I have no secrets with Urquhart," rejoined 
Wolf. "There's absolutely no need for you to leave us." 

"This gardener looked at me very suspiciously yester- 
day," whispered Jason. "I saw him through the hedge, in 



168 WOLF SOLENT 

his garden. He was planting something, but he kept 
looking at the hedge. He must have known I was there. 
He must have been wondering whether he dared shoot 
at me with a shotgun. So good-bye! I'm going to walk 
round the pond very slowly." 

Wolf moved toward Mr. Monk, leaving his companion 
to shuffle off as he pleased. The gigantic servant looked 
like a respectable prize-fighter in his Sunday clothes. 
When the two men met he took from his pocket a telegram 
and handed it to Wolf, touching his hat politely as he 
did so. 

"This came early," he said. "But there was no one 
else to send; and I had to tend to things before I could 
bring it myself. If there's any answer, 'twill have to go 
by way of Blacksod, for our office shuts at noon." 

Wolf opened the telegram. It was from his mother, and 
ran as follows: 

"ARRIVE RAMSCARD SEVEN O'CLOCK SUNDAY NIGHT TRADESMEN 

HAVE NO SENSE COULD SLEEP AT LOVELACE." 

"There's no answer, Monk," he said gravely; and then, 
after prodding the ground thoughtfully with his stick, 
and looking at the figure of Jason Otter, which was now 
stationary behind a poplar-tree, "This is from my 
mother," he added. "She is coming down from town 
tonight." 

"Very nice for you, Sir, I'm sure," murmured the man. 
" 'Tain't every gentleman has got a mother." 

"But the difficulty is, Monk," Wolf went on, "that 
my mother wants to stay down here. You don't happen 
to know of any cottage or any rooms in a cottage that 
we could get for a time, do you?" 



BAR SINISTER 169 

Roger Monk looked at him thoughtfully. "Not that I 
knows of, Sir," he began, his gipsy-like eyes wandering 
from Wolf's face to the landscape in front of him, a por- 
tion of which landscape included the figure of Mr. Otter, 
hiding behind the poplar-tree. 

"That is to say, Sir, unless by any chance . . . but 
that ain't likely, Sir. . . ." 

"What do you mean, Monk?" enquired the other, 
eagerly. 

" 'Twere only that I myself live lonesome-like in me 
own place . . . and seeing you're helping Squire with 
his writings . . . and Lenty Cottage be neat set up, I 
were just thinking " 

Wolf swung his stick. "The very thing!" he cried ex- 
citedly. In a flash his imagination became abnormally 
active. He visualized this gardener's house in all its de- 
tails. He saw himself, as well as his mother, snugly en- 
sconced there for years and years . . . perhaps for the 
rest of their lives! 

"But we should be a nuisance to you, Monk, even if 
the Squire were amenable, shouldn't we?" 

The man shook his head. 

"Well, I'll come straight home with you now, Monk, 
if I may," said Wolf impatiently. "Were you going home 
now?" 

"I was." 

"Well, I'll just run and tell Mr. Otter; and then I'll 
come with you." 

He left the man standing where they had been talking, 
and hurried round the edge of the pond. There was some- 
thing peculiarly appealing to him in the idea of this 



170 WOLF SOLENT 

cottage. How pleasant it would be, he thought, when he 
and his mother were living together there some five years 
hence, if he happened to say to her, as he came in to tea 
from his Sunday walk, with a bunch of primroses in his 
hand, "I came past Lenty Pond today, Mother, where I 
first heard about the chance of our settling here!" 

He found Jason sitting on the roots of the poplar, 
leaning his back against the tree-trunk and holding the 
tails of his overcoat stretched tightly over his knees, so 
that he should be entirely concealed from view. 

"That man hasn't gone," was his greeting to Wolf. 
"He's standing there still." 

"I know he is, Otter. He's brought a telegram for me. 
My mother's coming down tonight. Monk says he doesn't 
see any reason why she and I shouldn't take rooms in his 
cottage." 

Jason looked up at him from where he sat upon the 
poplar-root, and the whimsical manner in which he 
hugged his coal-tails was accentuated by a smile of 
hobgoblinish merriment. 

"You mean to live in it?" he remarked. "You and 
your mother? I don't believe old Urquhart would con- 
sider such a thing for a moment! These squires like to 
show off their servants' quarters. They like to take their 
guests round and say: 'That's where my head-gardener 
lives. He works at his garden when he's finished with 
mine! Those are "Boule de neige" roses!' But when it 
comes to honest people lodging in places like that 
goodness! Urquhart wouldn't consider it. But you can 
try. But my advice to you is to be very careful in this 



BAR SINISTER 171 

matter. You never know what troubles you'll have when 
you deal with people like this Monk. But you can try. 
There! you'd better go off with him. He's peeping and 
spying at this moment. He's thinking I'm holding you 
back because of the money you pay us." 

Wolf shook his head and made a movement to be gone, 
but the other bent forward a little and whispered up at 
him: "I'll walk slowly round the pond; then if he looks 
back he won't think you ought to wait for me." 

With this complicated and obscure sentence floating 
on the surface of his mind, Wolf left his companion to 
his own devices and rejoined Roger Monk. 

Not more than twenty minutes' walking brought them 
to the gardener's cottage. To Wolf's great satisfaction 
the place proved to be quite out of sight of the manor- 
house on the Ramsgard side of the orchards and the 
kitchen-gardens. It stood, indeed, in Lenty Lane, a little 
east of the drive-gates, and turned out to be a solid little 
cottage, pleasantly coated with white paint, and ap- 
proached from the lane by a neat gravel-path, on either 
side of which was a row of carefully whitewashed small 
round stones. Wolf for some reason didn't like the look 
of those white stones. Once more he regarded Lenty 
Cottage. The idea of its excessive neatness and tidiness, 
combined with the idea of its being so long empty except 
for this one man, troubled his nerves in some odd way. 
What did it suggest to him? Ah, he had it! It suggested 
the peculiar lonely trimness ... so extraordinarily for- 
bidding ... of a gaoler's house outside a prison-gate, 
or a keeper's house outside a lunatic-asylum. 



172 WOLF SOLENT 

"Well, let's see the inside," he said, turning to his 
companion. "Mr. Urquhart might as well have put me 
up here at first." 

The other gave him one of his equivocal glances. 
" 'Twere the matter of meals, I expect, Sir," he said 
cautiously. "But if the lady comes, things will be differ- 
ent, no doubt." 

"Then you'd be pleased to have us here?" 

This time the gardener's look was direct and eager. 

"I'd be glad enough to have a gent like yourself 
sleeping under this here roof," he cried. 

They entered the house together and the matter was 
soon arranged between them. When things were settled, 
Wolf observed the man rubbing one of his hands up and 
down the back of a chair. "I'd give a hundred pounds 
to get a place in them Shires again!" he burst out 
suddenly. 

Wolf looked at him in astonishment. "You don't like 
it here, Monk," he murmured. 

"Like it?" The man's voice sank to a whisper. " 'Tis 
easier to enter a gentleman's service than to leave it, 
Sir, when that gentleman be the sort of Nebuchadnezzar 
my master be!" 

"You aren't a Dorset man, then?" enquired Wolf. 

"I were born here," replied the other, "but I left home 
when I were a kiddie, and worked in they Shires." 

This remark made clear to Wolf a great deal about 
Roger Monk. The upper layers of the man's mind were 
sophisticated by travel. The deeper ones retained their in- 
digenous imprint. 

"Well, I must go back to Pond Cottage now," Wolf 



BAR SINISTER 173 

said calmly. "Mrs. Otter and Mr. Darnley ought to be 
back from church -by this time, and I must talk to them. 
We'll arrange about terms, Monk, after I've seen Mr. 
Urquhart. Do you suppose I should find him at home 
now, if I looked in on my way to the cottage?" 

A frown of concentrated concern clouded the counte- 
nance of the man in front of him. 

"It certainly would be best," he remarked, "if it could 
be done. What he'll say to it, I don't know, I'm sure." 

With these words ringing in his ears, Wolf, some 
fifteen minutes later, found himself admitted to Mr. 
Urquhart's presence. He discovered his employer in his 
study, reading with fascinated interest the book which 
his new secretary had brought him. 

"These Evershotts will be the making of our history," 
he chuckled, in high glee. "You did well with old Mala- 
kite. Five pounds for this? I tell you, it's worth twenty! 
You're a capital ambassador, Mr. Solent! ... Eh? 
What's that? Your mother coming here? . . . Monk's 
front-rooms?" 

He straightened out his legs and smoothed back his 
glossy hair from each side of that carefully brushed 
parting. With his great white face drooping a little on 
one side, with the flabby folds under his eyelids pulsing 
as if they possessed an independent life of their own, he 
made an unpleasant impression on Wolf's mind. 

Mr. Urquhart's study was a small, dingy room, the 
walls of which were entirely covered by eighteenth- 
century prints. The Squire sat in a low, leather chair, 
with the Evershott chronicle on his knees; and as Wolf 
settled himself opposite him in a similar chair, he began 



174 WOLF SOLENT 

to feel that, after all, he was probably exaggerating the 
peculiarities of King's Barton Manor. 

"It's my nervous imagination, I expect," he said to 
himself. "Urquhart's no doubt like hundreds of other 
eccentric men of- leisure. And as for the gardener's chat- 
ter I suppose servants are always glad to grumble to a 
stranger." 

"Didn't my predecessor live in Monk's house?" he 
found himself saying. 

The squire lifted his hand from the book he held and 
half raised it to his well-shaven chin. "Redfern? A little 
while, perhaps. I really forget. Not long, anyway. That 
drunken individual at Pond Cottage persuaded him to 
go to them. It was with them he died. They told you that, 
I suppose?" 

Mr. Urquhart's voice was so placid and casual as he 
made these remarks that Wolf was seized with a sort of 
shame for letting his imagination run riot so among all 
these new acquaintances. "It's the difference from Lon- 
don! That's what explains it," he thought to himself. 

Mr. Urquhart now stopped scratching his chin with his 
delicate finger-tips, and, bowing his head a little, fumbled 
once more with the pages of the book upon his knee. 
Wolf sank back into his deep armchair and stared at the 
man's tweed trousers and shiny patent-leather shoes. 

He drew a long breath that was something between a 
sigh of weariness and a sigh of relief. His recent inter- 
views with Jason and Monk had given him the feeling 
of being on the edge of a psychic maelstrom of morbid 
conflicts. The comfort of this remote room and the ease 
of this leather chair made him at once weary of agitations 



BAR SINISTER 175 

and glad that he still could feel like a spectator rather 
than a combatant. 

After all, why should he worry himself? As the philo- 
sophical Duke of Albany murmured in King Lear: "The 
event! Well . . . The event!" 

"How will your mother appreciate sharing her 
kitchen with my man?" said Mr. Urquhart suddenly. 

The remark irritated Wolf. What did this easy gentle- 
man know about the shifts of poverty? He was himself so 
bent upon the arrangement that these little matters 
seemed quite unimportant. 

"Oh, she won't mind that!" he responded carelessly. 

"What put all this into Roger's great, stupid, silly 
head?" the squire went on, in his silkiest voice. "Is he 
tired of my company? Does he want to leave my service 
and enter your mother's? What's up with the man? It 
isn't the money. I know that much. Roger cares less for 
money than any man I've ever dealt with. What can he 
be up to now?" 

Wolf remained silent, letting him run on. But in his 
mind he set himself once more to wonder how far he 
really had exaggerated the sinister element in his em- 
ployer's character. 

But Mr. Urquhart leaned forward now and regarded 
him intently. "You won't play me a trick, will you, like 
the other one? But you're not tricky, Mr. Solent, I can 
see that! On my soul, I think you're an honest young 
man. Your face shows it. It has its faults as a face; 
but it isn't tricky. . . . Well . . . well . . . well! . . . 
When does your mother arrive? I shall be interested to 
have the honor of meeting her again. My cousin Carfax 



176 WOLF SOLENT 

was at one time you know, I suppose? excessively in 
love with her. . . . Not tonight, eh? Well, perhaps 
that's as well. Mrs. Martin shall go over there and make 
everything straight." 

Wolf rose to his feet at this point, anxious to take 
his leave before the man had time to read him any pas- 
sages from the Evershott Diary. Once outside the house, 
he took stock of the situation. He had settled matters 
with the occupier and with the owner of his new abode. 
The final arrangement he had to make was with Mrs. 
Otter. Therefore, off he hurried to Pond Cottage, where 
he found his hostess just returned from church. 

But here he met with nothing but sympathy whether, 
in her secret heart she was glad to get rid of him, Wolf 
could not say. She may have all the while regretted the 
loss to her eldest son of that chamber whose walls Wolf 
had so arbitrarily denuded. Well! They could put those 
pictures back on those walls now! And he mentally re- 
solved to pay as few visits as possible to the bedroom of 
Mr. Jason Otter. He had no wish to behold the counte- 
nance of that "god of rain" again! 

He left Pond Cottage soon after lunch, explaining that 
he would return that night, but would have supper in 
Ramsgard with his mother. The afternoon proved to be as 
misty and warm as the earlier hours of the day; and as 
he retraced the track of Thursday's drive with Darnley, 
he did not permit the various agitations into which he 
had been plunged to destroy his delight in that relaxed 
and caressing weather. Pie found that travelling on foot 
in full daylight revealed to him many tokens of the 
Spring that he had missed on his evening drive. 



BAR SINISTER 177 

Once or twice he descended into the ditches on either 
side of the road, where the limp whitish-pink stalks of 
half -hidden primroses drooped above their crinkled 
leaves, and, with hands and knees embedded in the warm- 
scented earth, pressed his face against those fragile ap- 
paritions. 

The sweet, faint odour of these pale flowers made him 
think of Gerda Torp, and he began worrying his mind 
a good deal as to the effect of his mother's arrival upon 
the progress of his adventure. 

Long before he reached the outskirts of Ramsgard he 
was reminded of his approach to the famous West Coun- 
try School by the various groups of straw-hatted boys 
tall, reserved, disdainful who seemed exploring, like 
young Norman invaders, these humble pasture-lands of 
the West Saxons. 

One or two of the boys, as they passed him by, made 
hesitating half-gestures of respectful recognition. One of 
them actually lifted his straw-hat. Wolf became a little 
embarrassed by these encounters. He wondered what kind 
of a master these polite neophytes for it must have 
been the newcomers at the place who blundered in this 
way mistook him for! Did he look like a teacher of 
French? Or did they take him for one of that high, re- 
mote, aristocratic company not masters at all, but 
Governors of the ancient School? 

When he got closer to the town, he had no difficulty in 
espying both cemetery and workhouse across an expanse 
of market-gardens and small enclosed fields. The look 
of these objects, combined, as they were, with outlying 
sheds and untidy isolated hovels, gave him a sensation 



178 WOLF SOLENT 

that he was always thrilled to receive the peculiar sen- 
sation that is evoked by any transitional ground lying 
between town and country. 

He had never approached any town, however insig- 
nificant, across such a margin, without experiencing a 
queer and quite special sense of romance. Was it that 
there was aroused in him some subtle memory of all the 
intangible sensations that his ancestors had felt, each one 
of them in his day, as, with so much of the unknown 
before them, they approached or left, in their West 
Country wandering, any of these historic places? Did, 
in fact, some floating "emanation" of human regrets and 
human hopes hover inevitably about such marginal 
tracts redolent of so many welcomes and so many 
farewells? 

When he arrived at last in the centre of the town and 
came to the gate of the Abbey, it was a few minutes to 
four o'clock. There was a languid afternoon service 
ebbing to its end in the eastern portion of the dusky 
nave; and, without entering the building, but lingering 
in the Norman entrance, Wolf contemplated once more 
that famous fan-tracery roof. 

Those lovely organic lines and curves, up there in the 
greenish dimness, challenged something in his soul that 
was hardly ever stirred by any work of art; something 
that was repelled and rendered actually hostile by the 
kind of thing he had seen in that bedroom of Jason Otter. 

This high fan-tracery roof, into whose creation so much 
calm, quiet mysticism must have been thrown, seemed 
to appeal with an almost personal sympathy to Wolf's 
deepest mind. Uplifted there, in the immense stillness of 



BAR SINISTER 179 

that enclosed space, above the dust and stir of all passing 
transactions, is seemed to fling forth, like some great 
ancient fountain in a walled garden, eternal arches of 
enchanted water that sustained, comforted, and healed. 
The amplitude of the beauty around him had indeed just 
then a curious and interesting psychic effect. In place of 
giving him the sensation that his soul had melted into 
these high-arched shadows, it gave him the feeling that 
the core of his being was a little, hard, opaque round 
crystal ! 

Soothed, beyond all expectation, by this experience, 
and fortified with a resolute strength by thinking of his 
soul after this fashion, Wolf had nearly reached Selena 
Gault's door, when he remembered that he ought to make 
sure of a room for his mother at the Lovelace Hotel be- 
fore he did anything else. 

Hurrying round by the station, therefore, where he 
verified the time of the London train, he entered the office- 
hall of the famous hostelry. No backwater of rural 
leisure could have been more pulseless and placid than 
that mellow interior, with its stuffed fox-heads and 
mid-Victorian mahogany chairs. But it was with a shock 
of dismay that he learned from the dignified lady in 
charge of the hotel-books that owing to the approach of 
the annual Spring Fair every room in the place was 
already occupied. Wolf cursed the Fair and those horse- 
loving magnates. But there was nothing for him but to 
return to Miss Gault's; for the smaller Ramsgard Inn 
was at the further end of the town, and it was now five 
o'clock. 

He crossed the public gardens. He struck St. Aldhelm's 



180 WOLF SOLENT 

Street just above the bridge and moved westward under 
the long wall. He pushed open the green door and entered 
the garden of hyacinths. The mechanical act of opening 
that little gate, for no other reason than that it was a 
gate from a street into a private enclosure, brought sud- 
denly into his mind his similar entrance into the Torp 
yard; and the vein of amorousness in him, like a velvet- 
padded panther in a blind night, slipped wickedly past 
all the magic of yesterday's walk and caused his heart 
to beat at the imaginary image for he had never actually 
seen that provocative picture of the young girl astride 
the tombstone! 

No sooner had the mute servant admitted him into 
Selena's drawing-room and closed the door behind him, 
than he realized that his hostess was not alone. Not only 
were all the cats there, but playing wildly with the cats, 
like a young Bassarid with young tigers, was a curly- 
headed, passionate little girl, of olive complexion, who, 
even before Miss Gault had finished uttering the syllables 
of her name, seized him by both hands and held up an 
excited, magnetic mouth to be kissed. Off she went again, 
however, to her play with the cats, which seemed to 
arouse her to the limit of her nervous endurance, for her 
cheeks were feverishly vivid and her dark eyes gleamed 
like two great gems in the handle of a dagger a dagger 
that someone keeps furtively moving backwards and for- 
wards between a red flame and a window open to the 
night. 

As she pulled the cats to and fro and tumbled over 
them and among them, on sofa and hearth-rug, she kept 
up an incessant, excitable chatter; a chatter that struck 



BAR SINISTER 181 

Wolf's mind as resembling, in some odd manner, a sub- 
stance rather than a sound, for it seemed to supply a 
part of the warm, dusky atmosphere in which she played, 
and indeed seemed to require no vocal response from the 
other persons in the room. It was like the swirl of a 
swollen brook in a picture of Nicolas Poussin, in the 
foreground of which a young brown goatherd plays for 
ever with his goals. 

"01 wen Smith!" broke in Miss Gault, when she and 
Wolf had seated themselves, after their first exchange of 
greetings, and he had hurriedly given her a description 
of Mr. Urquhart and Mr. Urquhart's library. "Olwen 
Smith!" 

The little girl got up from the floor in a moment, and 
came and stood by her friend's knee. 

"You mustn't be noisy when a gentleman's here; and, 
besides, you've got on your Sunday frock. Tell Mr. Solent 
your name and where you live. Mr. Solent doesn't like 
noisy little girls, or little girls that talk all the time and 
interrupt people." 

"I live at Number Eighty-Five North Street Ramsgard," 
repeated the child hurriedly. "I was eleven last Thursday. 
Grandfather keeps the school hat-shop. Mother went 
away when I was born. Miss Gault is my greatest friend. 
Aunt Mattie is my mother now. I like the white cat best!" 

The child uttered these sentences as if they had been 
a lesson which she had learned by heart. She stood obe- 
diently by Selena Gault's side; but her dark eyes fixed 
themselves upon Wolf with an expression that he never 
afterwards forgot, so wild, so mocking, so rebellious, 
and yet so appealing did it seem. 



182 WOLF SOLENT 

"Olwen loves my cats; but not nearly so much as my 
cats love her" said Selena Gault tenderly. 

The little girl cuddled up to the black-gowned figure 
and laid her head against the old maid's sleeve. Her wild 
spirit seemed to have ebbed away from every portion 
of her body except her eyes. These refused to remove 
themselves from those of the visitor; and, as his own 
mood changed this way and that, these dusky mirrors 
changed with it, reflecting thoughts that no child's con- 
scious brain could possibly have understood. 

"But you know you love your Aunt Mattie as if she 
were your mother," said Selena Gault. "She's been so 
good to you that you'd be a very ungrateful little girl 
if you didn't love her." 

"I heard grandfather tell Aunt Mattie the other night 
that she was no more his child than I was her child," 
responded Olwen Smith, mechanically stroking Miss 
Gault's hand like an affectionate little automaton, while 
her feverish mocking eyes seemed to say to Wolf, "There, 
watch the effect of that!" 

"Mattie's mother died about twenty-five years ago, 
child," expostulated Miss Gault, "Her name was Lorna. 
She and your grandfather used to have dreadful quarrels 
before she died. That's why Mr. Smith, when he gets 
angry, says things like that. Of course Mattie is his 
daughter; and it's very wrong of him to say such things." 

"Aunt Mattie's funny" murmured the little girl. 

"Hush, child!" 

"But she is, rather! Just a tiny little bit funny, isn't 
she, Miss Gault?" 

Selena smiled at Wolf that peculiar hypnotized smile 



BAR SINISTER 183 

with which older people, who have given their souls into 
children's keeping, transform their pets' worst faults into 
qualities that are irresistibly engaging. 

"Aunt Mattie's got a nose like yours," said Olwen 
Smith. 

"Like mine?" murmured Selena Gault, reproachfully. 
"You mustn't be rude, Olwen dear. That's one thing I 
can't have in my house." 

The brown head was buried closer in the black silk 
gown, but the child's voice sounded clear enough. 

"Not like yours, Miss Gault like his! Exactly like 
his!" 

Selena Gault had occasion at that moment to turn clean 
away from both her visitors; for the mute servant entered 
the room carrying the tea-tray. The arrangement of this 
tray was evidently a matter of meticulous ritual in this 
house, and Wolf surveyed it with silent satisfaction, 
especially as the turbulent little girl ran off to play 
with the cats and left Miss Gault free not only to fill his 
cup, but also to attend unreservedly to his remarks. 

The tea-tray was placed upon a round table at Miss 
Gault's side. A black kitchen-kettle Miss Gault declared 
that no other kind boiled good water was placed upon 
the hearth. The servant herself did not retire, as most 
servants are wont to do at such a juncture, but remained 
to assist at the ceremony of "pouring out," a ceremony 
which was so deftly accomplished that Wolf soon found 
all his difficulties and annoyances melting away in the 
fragrance of the most perfect cup of tea he had ever 
tasted. 

The general effect of Miss Gault's drawing-room, in 



184 WOLF SOLENT 

the pleasant mingling of twilight and firelight, began to 
take on for his imagination the particular atmosphere 
that he was wont, in his own mind, to think of as "the 
Penn House atmosphere." This implied that there was 
something about this room which made him recall that 
old bow-window in Brunswick Terrace, Weymouth, where 
in his childhood he used to indulge in those queer, 
secretive pleasures. There was not a single piece of 
furniture in this room of Miss Gault's which did not 
project some essence of the past, tender and mellow as 
the smell of potpourri. 

He broke the silence now by a reference to his con- 
versation with Darnley in the Blacksod book-shop. "Otter 
said " he began. 

"Hush!" cried Selena Gaull; and then in a completely 
different tone, addressing the silent child, who was 
listening intently: "01 wen dear, you can go on playing! 
You can make as much noise as you like now! We've 
finished our conversation." 

"I don't want to play any more, Miss Gault. I hate all 
your cats except this one! I want to hear Mr. Solent tell 
you what Otter said!" 

"I'll have to send you home, Olwen, if you don't be- 
have better. It's rude to interfere with grown-up people's 
conversation." 

"I wasn't interfering; I was listening. I'd never have 
known about Aunt Mattie not being grandfather's real 
daughter if I hadn't listened. . . ." 

"Be quiet, child!" cried Selena Gault. But the pas- 
sionate little girl's shrill voice rose to a defiant shriek, 
as she jumped up from the sofa, flung the cat upon the 



BAR SINISTER 185 

floor, shook back her tangled curls, and screamed aloud. 
"And I'd never have known about Aunt Mattie not being 
my real mother if I hadn't listened!" . . . 

If Miss Gaull had not managed the child with perfect 
tact before, she rose to the occasion now. 

"It's all right, Olwen dear," she said in the calmest 
and most matter-of-fact voice. "I daresay it's because 
grown-up people talk such a lot of nonsense that they 
get so cross when children listen. There! Look! You've 
frightened your own favourite!" 

It was when matters were at this point of psychic 
equilibrium that Wolf decided that no more moments 
must elapse before he informed his hostess of his mother's 
arrival. The nervous electricity with which the air of the 
room was already vibrating, encouraged rather than 
deterred him. 

"Miss Gault!" he began suddenly when the tall black 
figure had subsided into some kind of peace in her green 
chair. "I've just had some rather serious news which I'd 
better tell you at once." 

Like a weary caryatid, sick of the burden of life, but 
unyielding in her resolution to bear it without reproach 
and without complaint, Selena Gault leaned forward to- 
ward him. 

"You needn't tell me, boy; I can guess it. Ann Hag- 
gard's coming down here." 

He nodded in assent to her words, but a look of irrita- 
tion crossed his face. 

"My mother and I have the same name," he protested. 

"When's she coming? Oh, what a mistake you'll make 
if you let her come! What a mistake you'll make!" 



186 WOLF SOLENT 

"I've not had much choice," remarked Wolf drily. 
"She's due now in a few minutes." 

"What?" gasped the lady, her deformed lip twitching 
like some curious aquarium-specimen that has been 
prodded by a visitor's stick. 

"She's due at seven o'clock." 

"In Ramsgard again after twenty-seven years! What 
a thing! What a thing to happen!" gasped Selena Gault. 

"I don't know where the deuce I'm going to put her! 
That's where I want your advice. The Lovelace is all 
filled up with people come in for the Spring Show." 

Miss Gault's face was like an ancient amphitheatre 
full of dusky gladiators. She took firm hold of the arms 
of her chair to steady herself. 

But at that moment a diversion offered itself which 
distracted the attention of both of them. Olwen Smith, 
who had been listening with fascinated intensity to what 
they were saying, now burst in upon them. 

"0 Mr. Solent!" she cried. "Do let your mother have 
our front-room for the night. Aunt Mattie takes lodgers, 
though grandfather does sell the School hats! I know 
Aunt Matlie would love to have your mother. Wouldn't 
she, Miss Gault? Do tell him she must come to us. Do 
tell him, Miss Gault! He'll let her come if you'll only 
say so!" And with that the child sidled up against their 
hostess's knees with such beguiling cajolery that Wolf 
was surprised at the coldness with which the woman re- 
ceived her appeal. 

She made a very faint movement with her two hands, 
just as if the child had not been at her side at all- 



BAR SINISTER 187 

movement as if she were pressing down a load of invisible 
earth over the roots of an invisible plant. 

"Hush, child!" she said irritably. "You mustn't in- 
terrupt us like that. I've told you so often you mustn't. 
I'm sure your Aunt Mattie wouldn't wish to have a guest 
for only one night. No one likes an arrangement of that 
sort." 

But the child, who had been watching her face with in- 
tense scrutiny till this moment, now flung herself down 
upon the floor and burst into furious crying. "I want 
her to come to us!" she wailed. "I want her to come! 
It's always like this when anything nice happens. You're 
unkind, Miss Gault! You're very unkind!" 

And then quite suddenly her tears stopped, her sobs 
ceased; and, very solemnly, sitting upon the floor, hug- 
ging her knees, looking up at the figure above her with 
a tragic, lamentable face, "You are prejudiced against 
me!" she said. 

The word "prejudiced" sounded so unexpected and 
so queer out of her mouth that it charmed away the old 
maid's agitation. "It's all right, my dear," she mur- 
mured, stooping down and lifting her up, and covering 
her hot forehead with kisses. "It's all right, Olwen. Mr. 
Solent shall bring his mother to your house." 

She fell into a deep reverie, staring into vacancy. 
Past the child's curly head, which she held pressed against 
her, she stared, past the puzzled and rather sulky profile 
of Wolf, past the thick green curtains bordered with red- 
and-gold braid, out into the gathering night, out into 
many nights lost and gone. 



188 WOLF SOLENT 

Wolf now rather impatiently looked at his watch and 
compared it with the clock upon the mantelpiece. 

"It's half-past six," he said brusquely, interrupting 
Miss Gault's thoughts. 

The lady nodded gravely, and rising to her feet with 
the child's hand still in hers, "I'll tell Emma to take 
Olwen home," she said, "and then she can tell Mattie 
Smith to expect you. Say good-bye to Mr. Solent, little 
one." 

Olwen held out her hand with one of the most compli- 
cated looks he had ever seen on a child's face. It was 
repentant, and yet it was triumphant. It was mocking 
and mischievous, and yet it was, in a queer way, appeal- 
ing and wistful. 

"Well, I'll see you again," said Wolf, stooping down 
and kissing the child's feverishly hot little fingers, "un- 
less they send you off to bed before we get to the house." 

Olwen was obviously immensely relieved that he had 
refrained from hugging her or kissing her face. 

Very sedate and dignified was the curtsey she now gave 
him, turning round to manoeuvre it as Miss Gault opened 
the door; and he was left with that honourable glow of 
satisfaction with which clumsy people are sometimes re- 
warded who have been self-controlled enough to respect 
the nervous individuality of a child. 

When Miss Gault returned and had closed the door, 
she stood for a space regarding her visitor with the sort 
of grave, concentrated look, not unmixed with misgiving, 
that a commander in an involved campaign might give 
to a trusty but over-impetuous subordinate whose limita- 
tions of mind prohibit complete confidence. 



BAR SINISTER 189 

"It will be awkward for her to go straight to these 
Smiths, you know. But she'd have to meet them, I sup- 
pose, sooner or later; and it may be all right. It's like 
taking the bull by the horns, anyway; which is what 
Ann always did." 

Wolf was silent. He was watching the hands of the 
clock. 

"Why did you let her come down here?" the old maid 
broke out. "Are you her shadow? Are you tied to her 
apron-strings? Can't you see what it means to me, and 
to others who remember him, to have to see her, to have 
to speak to her? Haven't you felt yourself that this is his 
country, his corner of the world, his possession? Haven't 
you felt that? And yet you let his enemy, his vindictive 
enemy, invade his very bury ing-ground!" , . . 

Wolf's only retort to this impassioned speech was to 
snatch at the lady's hand and give it a hurried kiss. "You 
mustn't take it too seriously," were his parting words. 

When he reached the station, he was met by the news 
that the train was to be about an hour late. 

"This will worry our little Olwen!" he thought in 
dismay. "They'll send her to bed for a certainty. They'll 
think we're not coming at all. They'll think we've changed 
our minds. And where shall we get supper when we are 
there? Damn these teasing problems! I wish Mother had 
waited till tomorrow." 

The station was not a very pleasant place to spend an 
hour in; so Wolf mounted the hill which rose behind the 
parallel tracks of the railroad and the river. Here there 
was a sort of terrace-road, perched high above the town 
and itself overshadowed by the grassy eminence known 



190 WOLF SOLENT 

as "The Slopes," beyond the summit of which lay the 
wide-stretching deer-park of the lord of the manor. 

Feeling sure that, if the train came sooner than it was 
expected, he would hear it in time, as soon as he reached 
the terrace-road below "The Slopes" he began pacing to 
and fro along its level security, gazing down on the lights 
of the town as they twinkled intermittently through the 
darkened valley beneath him. The sky was overcast; so 
that these scattered points of light resembled the phan- 
tasmal reproduction of a sidereal firmament that had 
already ceased to exist. Mists that in the darkness were 
only waftures of chillier air rose up from the muddy 
banks of the Lunt and brought to his nostrils on this 
Spring night odours that suggested the Autumn. As he 
paced that terrace, inhaling these damp airs, his mind 
seemed to detach itself from the realistic actualities he 
was experiencing. It seemed to float off and away on a 
dark stream of something that was neither air nor water. 
What he desired at that moment, as he had never 
desired it before, was a support in which he could lose 
himself completely lose himself without obligation or 
effort! He, the mortal creation of Chance, craved for 
some immortal creation of Chance, such as he could 
worship, wilfully, capriciously, blindly. But he stretched 
out his arms into that darkness in vain. His voice might 
have been the voice of a belated rook on its way to 
Babylon Hill, or the scraping of one alder-branch against 
another above the waters of the Lunt, or the faint in- 
finitesimal slide of tiny grains of gravel, as some minute 
earthworm in the midst of the empty little path at the 
top of "The Slopes" came forth to inhale the Spring 



BAR SINISTER 191 

night! A bubble of airy vibration, his appeal was lost 
as absolutely as any single drop of water that rolled at 
that moment down the green back of a frog emerging 
from the cold surfa.ce of Lenty Pond. 

He kept visualizing the mud-scented darkness in which 
he seemed to be floating as a vast banked-up aqueduct 
composed of granite slabs covered with slippery black 
moss. Out of the spiritual tide that carried him along, 
there whirled up, in spurts of phosphorescent illumina- 
tion, various distorted physical aspects of the people he 
had met these last few days. But these aspects were all 
ill-assorted, incongruous, maladjusted. . . . All these 
morbid evocations culminated finally in the thought of 
his mother; for what dispersed them and shook them 
indeed into nothingness now, with an abrupt materialistic 
shock, was the clear, sharp sound of the clattering gates 
of the level-crossing. 

Wolf slid with a jerk into the normal world as he heard 
this sound, like a man falling plumb-down from a sky- 
light upon a creaking floor. 

He grasped his stick firmly by its handle, digging it 
into the ground at every step, and hurried with long 
strides down the little descent. 

Nothing in the world seemed important to him now 
but to see his mother's face and hear her high-pilched 
familiar voice. . . . 

Standing on the platform, before the train drew in, he 
found that his heart was beating with excitement. 

"I'm simply at an impasse'' he thought to himself, 
"about what I feel for Mother. I don't really want her 
down here . . . interfering with Gerda . . . interfering 



192 WOLF SOLENT 

with everything. . . . It's odd . . . it's funny . . . it's 
just like the spouting up of a great white whale . . . 
spouting up, when no one's thinking of whales . . . when 
everyone's thinking of the course of the ship!" 

When the train actually came in, and he held her at 
arm's length with both his hands, clutching her wrists 
almost fiercely, looking her up and down almost irritably, 
he recognized in a flash that existence without her, how- 
ever adventurous it might be, would always be half-real 
. . . just as those famous Ramsgard "Slopes" up there 
had seemed half -real a few minutes ago! 

It was she alone who could give the bitter-sweet tang 
of reality to his phantasmal life and make the ground 
under his feet firm. 

Her coming, now, as of old, had done, at this moment, 
just this very thing! 

As he looked upon her now that gallant, ruddy, hand- 
some face, those proud lips, those strong, white teeth, that 
wavy mass of splendid, grey hair he felt that, though 
he might love other persons for other reasons, it was she 
alone who made the world he lived in solid and resistant 
to the touch. He felt that without her the whole thing 
might split and tear as if it had been made of thin 
paper! 

"Oh, it was awful, my dabchick!" the lady cried, 
kissing him on both cheeks in an exaggerated foreign 
manner. "They were all down on us. I never knew what 
wretches tradesmen could be! They'll be nicely fooled 
when they find the house shut up. But they deserved it. 
They behaved abominably. . . ." She caught herself up 
with a gasp, and turned, full of despotic abruptness, to- 



BAR SINISTER 193 

wards the patient Ramsgard porter. "Those are all mine! 
Three big ones and three little ones! You can come back 
for the other people's when you've taken mine out! Is 
that bus there? It always -used to be." 

Wolf took from her a basket she carried, which ap- 
peared full of the oddest assortment of objects; and 
they both followed the loaded little truck, pushed by the 
docile porter to the front of the station. 

"There it is," cried Mrs. Solent, "the old Ramsgard 
bus! Put them in ... carefully now! Carefully now!" 

The porter retired; recompensed by a shilling, which 
Wolf hurriedly produced from his pocket while his 
mother was opening her purse. When he had helped her 
into the interior of the stuffy little vehicle, he gave his 
order to the man on the box. 

"Number Eighty-Five North Street!" 

"Where are you taking me?" Mrs. Solent asked, as 
the bus rumbled off. 

"To a room in the town for one night, Mother. The 
Lovelace was full. But I've got a lovely cottage for us 
at King's Barton, near Mr. Urquhart's drive-gate." 

"Where is this room? I remember every house in 
North Street." 

"It's at Mr. Smith's, the hatter's." 

Mrs. Solent's dark-brown eyes glowed like the eyes of 
some excited wood-animal. 

"That man! Not that house, of all houses. You don't 

mean " She broke off and stared at him intently, 

while an indescribable smile began to touch the corners 
of her mouth. 

Then she leaned forward and rubbed her gloved hands 



194 WOLF SOLENT 

together, while her cheeks glowed with mischief. 

"Has the good man by any chance got a daughter 
called Mattie?" 

"Aunt Maltie?" murmured Wolf, feeling as if he were 
struggling to catch two ropes, which, at the same time, 
dangled before him. "That is what the child called her." 

"The child?" It was his mother's turn to look puzzled 
now. 

"Little Olwen Smith." 

Mrs. Solent's smile died away. 

"It can't be the same," she said. "Unless Lorna's child's 
got married." 

"It's the same, all right, Mother. It's your man, all 
right. He was the hatter, wasn't he?" 

She nodded. 

"Well! Il's the same, Mother." 

Her inscrutable smile began to return and she leaned 
back with a sigh. 

"To go straight to Albert's house But it'll be fun. 

It'll be sport! I'm not going to take it seriously. . . . 
Aunt Mattie? . . . little Olwen? . . . goodness! But 
they must have come down in the world, if he lets out 
rooms to visitors ... or did he invite me? Am I destined 
to be Albert Smith's guest the first night I set foot in 
this place?" 

"Did you and Father know him well?" enquired Wolf, 
as the bus swung round the corner by the ancient con- 
duit. 

"Your father knew Lorna well Albert's minx of a 
wife. Lorna was even sillier about him than that idiot 
Selena." 



BAR SINISTER 195 

"What happened, Mother?" 

"Never mind now, Wolf! I'm in a mood to be amused 
by everything. Don't look so sulky! I tell you I'm going 
to amuse myself here. You don't seem to realize that I 
lived in this town for ten years." 

"Listen, Mother," said Wolf hurriedly, "I know what 
you mean when you talk of 'amusing' yourself. Now look 
here, Mother, I won't have you getting into any rows 
down here! I've got my job here; and you've got to be 
nice to everybody. Do you understand?" In his excite- 
ment he laid his heavy hand upon her knee. "You've got 
to be nice to everybody to everybody!" 

The flickering oil-lamp which lit the inside of the bus 
shone down upon those shining wood-animal eyes. They 
glowed with excitement. They positively gleamed as the 
jolting of the vehicle jogged both mother and son up and 
down on their seats. 

"Your father taught me to be unconventional," she said. 
"And I'm not going to be all sugar-and-spice in my old 
haunts." 

The rambling old conveyance was drawing up now 
outside Number Eighty-Five. 

"Mother, you must be good, and let bygones be by- 
gones." 

She turned upon him then, while the bus-man ran up 
the steps of the house to ring the bell. 

"Your father never gave up his amusement for me, and 
I'm not going to give up my amusement for you! I'm 
going to be just myself with all our old acquaintances. 
I'm going to begin with Albert! There! Don't be silly! 
Get out and help me out. We can't go anywhere else 



296 WOLF SOLENT 

now. . . . Who's that at the door? Is that Lorna's 
child? . . ." 

Just half-an-hour later Wolf and his mother were 
seated at a massive mahogany table in the hatter's dining- 
room, sharing the Smiths' Sunday supper. Olwen was not 
in bed. With feverish cheeks and enormous dark eyes 
she stood at the elbow of her grandfather, listening to 
every word of the talk and scanning every detail of Mrs. 
Solent's appearance. 

"I would never have believed it possible," the grey- 
haired lady was saying with radiant glances at them all, 
"that you should have changed so much, Albert, and 
that Lorna should have come to life in Maltie. You're 
not so pretty as your mother, my dear. Of course, we 
must allow that! But goodness! You've got her figure 
and her look. How does it feel to be so like someone 
else? It must be queer almost as if you inherited their 
feelings, their troubles, everything! But I am glad to see 
you, Mattie. It gives me even me a rather queer feel- 
ing. No, you're not as pretty as your mother; but Albert 
mustn't be hurt if I say I think you're much nicer! You 
needn't scowl at me, Wolf. Mattie doesn't mind, do you? 
And Albert knows me too well to be surprised at anything 
I say." 

"Times change, Mrs. Solent times change!" mur- 
mured the master of the house, in a low voice. "I was all 
shaky when little Olwen said you were coming. It seemed 
like the dead coming to life. But I feel all right now, 
as I set eyes upon you." And he helped himself to a 
lingering sip of the glass of mild whiskey-and- water that 
stood in front of him. 



BAR SINISTER 197 

He was a sad, lean, commonplace little man, with a 
deprecatory bend of the head and a mingling of rustic 
cunning and weary obsequiousness in his watery, spec- 
tacled eyes. He looked as if he had been spending the day 
in long Low Church services. The smell of hassocks and 
stuffy vestries hung about his clothes, and the furtive 
unction of an official who had collected many threepenny 
bits in an embroidered bag weighed upon his stooping 
shoulders. 

While Mrs. Solent ate her cold mutton and hot caper- 
sauce with hungry relish and rallied the nervous church- 
warden, Wolf took the opportunity of studying in quiet 
self-effacement the expressive countenance of Mr. Smith's 
daughter. Mattie turned out to be a girl with a fine figure, 
but an unappealing face. She looked about twenty-five. 
She was not pretty in any sense at all, in spite of what 
Mrs. Solent had said. Her thick, prominent nose was out 
of all proportion to the rest of her face. Her chin, her 
forehead, her eyes, were all rendered insignificant by the 
size of this dominant and uncomely feature. 

But though Aunt Mattie's eyes were small and of a 
colour that varied between grey and green, they possessed 
a certain formidable power. A person gazing into them 
for the second or third time found himself looking hastily 
away, as if he had been caught trespassing in a very 
rigidly preserved estate. 

Wolf was surprised how completely at ease the girl 
showed herself. He had expected her to be extremely dis- 
concerted by this intrusion. But not at all. She replied 
calmly and with quite the appropriate nuance of humour 
to his mother's rather exaggerated badinage; and with 



198 WOLF SOLENT 

himself she seemed perfectly natural and unaffected. All 
this was astonishing to him; though why it should have 
been so, he would have been ashamed to explain. Perhaps 
he had expected the Smith family to display social ten- 
dencies at variance with those of the upper middle-class 
to which he himself belonged. If so, he was certainly 
guilty of unjustifiable snobbishness. For though the hatter 
of Ramsgard School did not behave like a nobleman, 
he behaved with quite as much dignity and ease as most 
of the professional gentlemen with whom Wolf was ac- 
quainted! This unpremeditated supper-party in that dingy 
high-ceilinged dining-room, with its great cut-glass chan- 
delier hanging over their heads and its gold-framed 
picture of some ancestral Mr. Smith gazing down upon 
them, was neither awkward nor embarrassed. Mrs. 
Solent's evident recklessness found no rocks or reefs in 
the behaviour of the others upon which its mischief could 
lash itself into foam! 

Before the evening was over and it was time for him to 
start for his night-walk back to King's Barton, Wolf had 
begged more than once for a definite promise from Mattie 
Smith that she would bring Olwen over to see them when 
they were established in their new abode at Lenty Cot- 
tage. The girl was complaisant and gracious over this 
invitation, to which the child responded breathlessly ; but 
Wolf knew enough of the ways of women to know that 
there were subtle withdrawings and qualifications under 
that heavy, benevolent mask, into which it would have 
been unwise to probe. 

"Which day does the Spring Fair begin, Father?" 
Mattie said suddenly to the old gentleman. 



BAR SINISTER 199 

"The Fair, my dear?" responded the hatter. "To- 
morrow, I believe; and it lasts till the end of the week; 
but someone told me after church no! it was before 
church that Thursday is the horse-show." 

"Oh, that completes it all!" cried Mrs. Solent. "That's 
the one last touch. Don't I remember the Fair! I'd like 
to go tomorrow, the moment the gates are open! I'd like 
to go every day." 

"We'll go on Thursday, Mother," said Wolf. "Everyone 
will be there then and you'll be able to see how many of 
'em remember you." 

"The horse-show is the great day," said Mattie Smith 
acquiescingly. 

"I haven't changed very much, then, Albert?" mur- 
mured Mrs. Solent in response to a furtive appraising 
glance from the discreet churchwarden. 

Mr. Smith looked a little embarrassed at having been 
caught observing her. 

"No, you haven't changed! You haven't changed!" 
sighed the weary little man; and the tone in which he 
uttered these plaintive words seemed drawn from a vast 
warehouse of accumulated school-hats shelves upon 
shelves of hats the burden of which seemed weighing 
him down in a Dead Sea of diurnal desolation. 

"Your mother is your real mother, isn't she?" inter- 
rupted Olwen in a shrill voice, gazing at Wolf from the 
protection of Mattie's knees. 

Providence came to his rescue with an answer that was 
really quite an inspiration. 

"Mothers are as mothers do," he responded. 

But he caught, all the same, a reddening of Mattie's 



200 WOLF SOLENT 

cheeks and a hurried turning away of the churchwarden's 
eyes. Mr. Albert Smith kepi pouring out whiskey for 
himself and for Wolf; but though Mrs. Solent drank only 
a little coffee, she was the one who held the evening 
together by her high spirits. Wolf watched Mattie whis- 
pering to the child about going to bed; but as he knew 
well enough that Olwen wouldn't go to bed till the party 
broke up, he began to look from one to another, waiting 
till a lapse in the conversation should give him a chance 
to bid them good-night and start on his walk home. 

But Mrs. Solent's excitement was unsubduable; and 
there seemed something about this unusual supper-party 
that made him reluctant % to bring it to an end. The dark 
old furniture, the dark old wall-paper, the dark old great- 
grandfather in his heavy frame, projected some kind of 
hypnotism upon the sliding moments, that made it as 
hard for him to move as if he were under a spell. 

No sound came from the street outside. No sound came 
from the rest of the house. Like a group of enchanted 
people they continued to sit there, facing one another 
across the table, listening to Mrs. Solent's rich, voluble 
voice. 

Wolf had long begun, in his insatiable manner, to 
drink up every peculiarity of the room in which they sat 
of the furniture upon which the heavily-globed gas-jets 
of the candelabra shed so mellow a glow. As he grew 
tired of smoking cigarettes, he became aware of a faint 
scent of apples. Where this scent originated he could 
not detect. It seemed to proceed equally from every por- 
tion of the apartment. And as he gave himself up to it, it 



BAR SINISTER 201 

brought to his mind a kind of distilled essence of all the 
fruit and the flowers that had ever been spread out upon 
that massive brown table; spread out upon former edi- 
tions of "The Western Gazette"; editions old enough to 
contain news of the death of Queen Adelaide or of Queen 
Charlotte! 

"I must go now," he thought. "I must go now." And 
he began to suspect that what really held him back from 
making a start upon his walk was not any attraction in 
the Smith menage, but simply the great invisible struggle 
that had already begun between that dead man in the 
cemetery and this woman who was so extraordinarily 
alive ! 

She had come prepared to avenge herself in her own 
magnificent way not basely, but still with formidable 
success. She had not come to Ramsgard to efface herself. 
And now, being here, being encamped, as Miss Gault 
said, on the very edge of his burying-ground, she could 
not refrain, just out of pure, suppressed high spirits, 
from stirring up the mud of the ambiguous past. Well! 
The event must work itself out. In no sense was he re- 
sponsible. . . . 

He did manage to rise at last and to kiss his mother 
good-night. He would have kissed Olwen, too, but she 
impatiently drew away. His final appeal to Mattie to 
come over and see them, "any day but Thursday, when 
we'll all be at the horse-show," was received with more 
warmth and cordiality than this girl had yet displayed. 

What were the thoughts, day after day, year after year, 
that beat about in the secretive brain behind that heavily- 



202 WOLF SOLENT 

featured face? What was this queer attraction which he 
felt for her, so different from the interest excited in him 
by her father and by the little girl? 

Wolf couldn't help pondering on these things as he 
made his way out of the silent town, accompanied by 
hardly any mortal sound except the creak of his own 
heavy boots and the thud of his own heavy stick. 

It was not until he was clear of the last houses of 
Ramsgard, clear of both workhouse and cemetery, that the 
Smith house, the Smith daughter, the Smith grand- 
daughter, faded from his brain. 

Then, as the grass-scented mists grew cooler against 
his face, rolling up towards the arable lands from the 
hushed Blackmore meadows, the old serpent of lecherous 
desire lifted once more its head in that spacious night. 
Once more his mind reverted to Gerda Torp not to 
Gerda as she was when she sent her bird-call so far over 
Poll's Camp, but to Gerda as she was to his wicked 
imagination when he listened to the lewd whisperings 
of Lobbie Torp and Bob Weevil, to the Gerda he had 
never seen and perhaps would never see the Gerda who 
used a tombstone for a hobby-horse in that littered monu- 
ment-yard in Chequers Street! 



YELLOW BRACKEN 



WoLF TOOK GOOD CARE NOT TO REVEAL TO HIS MOTHER 
his own secret reservations as to the desirability of Lenty 
Cottage. But that first impression of something uncannily 
neat and trim about it still obstinately persisted in his 
own mind after the stir of their arrival was over. 

There was no word spoken about their keeping a ser- 
vant; but Mrs. Martin, the Squire's housekeeper, promised 
that their maid, Bessie, should come in two or three 
times a week to clean up. But how far his mother who, 
as Wolf knew, disliked cooking would be able to deal 
with their meals, remained to be seen. 

On the morning of Wednesday, after their first two 
nights in their new abode, it struck Wolf that it would 
be amusing, before entering on his labours with Mr. 
Urquhart, to pay a visit to King's Barton Vicarage. 

He found the clergyman working in his garden, and 
followed him into his forlorn house, the whitewashed 
exterior of which was stained with faint yellows, greens, 
and browns by the varied moods of the weather. He 
followed him up an uncarpeted staircase and across an 
uncarpeted landing. 

The rooms downstairs, the doors of which stood wide 
open, were evidently used as religious classrooms; for 
the only furniture they contained 'was a miserable collec- 
tion of wooden forms and battered cane-bottom chairs. 
Of the rooms at the top of the staircase, the doors of 
which stood open too, one appeared to be the vicar's 



204 WOLF SOLENT 

bedroom the bed was unmade and the floor was littered 
with tattered magazines and another the priest's sitting- 
room or study. 

The whole house looked as though its owner had 
long since relinquished every kind of effort to get that 
personal happiness out of life which is the inheritance of 
the meanest. Its shabby desolation seemed to project, in 
opposition to every human instinct, a forlorn emptiness 
that was worse than squalor. Its effect upon Wolf's senses 
was ghastly. No one could conceive a return to such 
a house as a return "home"! What it meant was simply 
that this wretched little priest had no home. The basic 
human necessity for some degree of cheerfulness in one's 
lair was outraged and violated. 

The room into which Wolf was now led had at least the 
redemption of a small fire of red coals. But except for 
this, it was not a place where a stranger would wish to 
prolong his stay. It was littered from end to end with 
cheap novels. Chairs, tables, and even the floor, were 
piled up with these vulgarly-bound volumes. The vapor- 
ous March light filtering in through dingy muslin cur- 
tains threw a watery pallor upon these abortions of 
human mediocrity. 

"You seem to be fond of reading," remarked Wolf to 
his host, as he sat down on the only chair that was not in 
use. 

"Mostly stories," responded T. E. Valley, turning his 
head round with a whimsical grimace, as he fumbled 
at the lock of a small cupboard hanging against the wall. 
"Mostly stories," he repeated. Having cleared a chair 
and the fragment of a table, he sat down opposite his 



YELLOW BRACKEN 205 

guest with a bottle of brandy between them and two 
glasses. 

"You are not unhappy, then," remarked Wolf, trying 
to overcome his discomfort. "Books and brandy . . . and 
a fire for chilly days. . . . You might be much worse 
off than you are, Vicar . . . much worse off." 

T. E. Valley smiled wanly. "Much worse off," he re- 
peated, refilling his glass. "But you know those stories 
are hardly literature, Solent hardly theology, Solent. 
It is curious," he went on, meditatively, resting his chin 
upon his clenched hands and supporting his elbows on 
the table. "It is curious that with Urquhart and Jason 
Otter always working against me, and with most of the 
parish despising me, I am not more often in despair. 
Especially as I have so poor a conceit of myself. I know 
myself through and through, Solent; and I am the 
weakest, feeblest character alive! And yet, as you say, I 
really am not, not at bottom, I mean, an unhappy person. 
It is curious. I can't understand it." 

He was silent for a space; while Wolf found himself 
giving way to a strange, almost sensual spasm of neryous 
sympathy. There was something about the man's abject 
humility that excited him in a way he could not have 
explained. 

"It doesn't matter what T. E. Valley does," he began 
again, his voice rising to a shrill squeal, like the voice 
of a prophet among mice. "It doesn't matter whether I 
drink or whether I stay sober! The blessed Sacrament 
remains the same, whatever happens to T. E. Valley!" 

Wolf looked at him and exulted in the man's exulta- 
tion, "He's got hold of it," he thought, "whatever he 



206 WOLF SOLENT 

likes to call it. He's got hold of it. This awful house 
might be a prison, an asylum, a slave-galley. The fellow's 
a saint! He's got hold of it!" 

But it was his practical reason rather than his nervous 
sympathy that dictated his next words. "You don't worry 
yourself about conduct, then, or about duty?" 

The little man's disordered El Greco eyes grew bright 
within their hollow sockets. "Not a bit!" he cried. "Not 
a bit!" 

"And morality?" enquired Wolf. 

There was a pause at this; and the light in those ani- 
mated-eyes went out suddenly, just as if Wolf had put an 
extinguisher over them. 

"You mean the matter of unholy love," murmured 
T. E. Valley. 

"If you call it so," said Wolf. 

"That is another question," the man admitted, and he 
gave vent to a sigh of infinite sadness. "Why it should be 
so, it's hard to tell; but every kind of love, even the most 
insane and depraved even incest, for instance is con- 
nected with religion and touches religion. When I get 
drunk it's a matter of chemistry. When I get angry it's a 
matter of nerves. But when I love in the wrong way " 

The priest of King's Barton rose to his feet. With a 
shaky hand he deliberately poured back into the decanter 
his unfinished drink. Then, with awkward shuffling steps, 
steps that made Wolf aware for the first time that in- 
stead of boots he wore large, ragged, leather slippers, he 
came round the table to his guest's side. 

"I'm nothing," he mumbled almost incoherently. "I'm 
nothing. But don't you know," he said, seizing Wolf's 



YELLOW BRACKEN 207 

hand in his dirty, feverish fingers, "don't you know that 
love sinks down into the roots of the whole world? Don't 
you know that there are . . . levels ... in life . . . 
that . . . that . . . defy Nature?" 

Wolf's brain became suddenly clearer than it had been 
all day since he first got out of bed that morning. It 
seemed to him that between this confessed "morality" of 
Tilly-Valley and what he had already divined as the un- 
confessed "immorality" of Mr. Urquhart, there was a 
ghastly reciprocity. He suddenly felt a reaction in favour 
of the most simple earlh-born heathenism. He deliber- 
ately finished his glass of brandy, and stood up. 

"I don't think any of us knows very much about love," 
he mumbled. And then he went on rather lamely: "I 
think there are a great many different kinds of love, just 
as there are a great many different kinds of malice." He 
stopped again, his mind struggling with the difficulty of 
expression. "I don't think," he blurted out, "that most 
of the kinds of love we run across sink down to the bot- 
tom of the universe!" 

Having said this, he uttered a short, uncomfortable 
schoolboy-chuckle. "Well, well," he added gently, 'Tm 
not so certain about any of this as to be rude to anyone 
over it! Well, good-bye, Valley," and he held out his 
hand. "By the by, my mother will expect a call from 
you soon. You will come, won't you? Drop in at lea-time. 
I'm generally in then; only don't -let it be tomorrow, be- 
cause we're going to the Show. Shall we see you there?" 
And he shook the priest's hand with affectionate cor- 
diality, searching his mind with his eyes. . . . 

It was just lunch-time when he returned to Lenty Cot- 



208 WOLF SOLENT 

tage. His mother had been weeding in the garden all the 
morning; and she brought into the small front-room, 
where they had their light meal, a breath of earth-mould 
that was very acceptable after his recent conversation. 

"You look very well pleased with yourself, Wolf," she 
said, as they sat down opposite each other. "What have 
you been doing to make you feel so complacent?" 

"Acting as oil and wine, Mother," he answered, "be- 
tween the squire and the vicar." 

She threw back her head and laughed wickedly. 

"You're a nice one to settle quarrels! But I suppose 
you settled this one by shouting them both down, and 
that's what's given your dear face as grandmamma used 
to say that 'beyond yourself look! There's a letter for 
you under that book; but you shan't have it till I've fin- 
ished this good meal and drunk my coffee." 

Wolf looked at the book in question, which was a 
large edition of Young's "Night Thoughts" bound like a 
school-prize. 

"It's a child's hand," said his mother, watching his 
face with gleaming brown eyes. "Is it from that little 
Smith girl, do you think? Or have those people you 
stayed with, those funny Otter people, got any chil- 
dren?" 

Wolf shook his head. Could it be from Olwen Smith? 
It appeared unlikely; but the child did seem to have 
taken a fancy to him. It was possible. But then, in one 
of those sudden clairvoyances that emanate so strangely 
from unopened letters, he felt certain that it wasn't from 
a child at all. It was from Gerda! 

"You're mad to read it Wolf, I can see that. But I 



YELLOW BRACKEN 209 

won't have my good lunch spoilt. I think it would be nice 
if we had our coffee at once, don't you? Do go and bring 
it in! It's on the kitchen-stove." 

He obeyed with alacrity, as he always did in these 
caprices of his mother's, and they sipped their coffee in 
suspended excitement, their eyes shining across the table 
like the eyes of two animals. 

"Oh, it'll be so amusing, going to the Horse Show," 
she cried. "I wonder how many of them I shall recog- 
nize? Albert used to be ever so embarrassed when I 
made a fuss over him in public. And I did, you know, I 
often did; just to show I didn't care a fig about Lorna's 
silliness!" 

Obscurely irritated by the flippancy of this allusion to 
his father's misconduct, and definitely impatient at the 
enforced delay about the letter, Wolf suddenly burst out: 
"I've been to tea with Selena Gault, Mother. She wrote 
and invited me." He did not say that he had been the 
first to take ihe initiative in this affair. He felt it to be 
revenge enough without that. But Mrs. Solent was a 
match for him. 

"Oh, I'm so glad, Wolf, that you went to cheer up that 
old monster. That was sweet of you! Think of it! My 
son silting down to tea with all the Ramsgard old ladies! 
I'm sure she invited every one of the masters' wives and 
mothers to meet you. 'The son of my old friend, William 
Solent.' I can hear her say it! Wejl do tell me, Wolf! 
For this is really getting interesting. What did you think 
of the great Gault? Of course, you know how it is with 
me. I never can endure deformity! I feel sorry and so 
forth; but I just can't see it about. It was over the Gault 



210 WOLF SOLENT 

that your father and I had our final quarrel. No, you 
must listen to me! He was as insensitive about things 
like that as in everything else. He had absolutely no 
fastidiousness. The Gault had never before met any man 
who could even look at her. I mean you know! look at 
her as men do look at us. And it just went to her poor, 
dear head. She fell madly in love if you can call it 
love, in a monster like that and the extraordinary thing 
about it was that it didn't horrify your father. I don't 
want to be catty; but really you know! with a deform- 
ity like that You'd have thought he'd have run to the 

end of the world. But not at all! What are you doing, 
Wolf? Take your hands from your head!" 

But Wolf, with his long, bony middle fingers pressed 
against his ears, contented himself with making a shame- 
less grimace at the woman who had given him birth. 

Quick as lightning Mrs. Solent ran to the side-table, 
and snatching up the letter that was beneath the book, 
made as though she would throw it in the fire. 

This manoeuvre was entirely successful. Her son rushed 
upon her; and the half-playful, half -serious struggle that 
ensued between them ended in his wresting the letter out 
of her clenched fingers. 

He then pushed her down by main force into an arm- 
chair and hurriedly handed her a cigarette and a lighted 
match. 

"Now please be good, Mother darling!" he pleaded. 
"I'll tell you everything when I've read it." 

He sat down in the opposite chair and tore open the 
letter. His mother puffed great rings of smoke into the 
air between them and surveyed him with glittering eyes 



YELLOW BRACKEN 211 

with eyes that had in their brown depths an almost 
maudlin passion of affection. 

Miss Selena Gault was forgotten. 

The letter was written in pencil and in a handwriting 
as straggling and unformed as that of a little girl of 
ten. "Olwen would have composed a much more 
grown-up production," he thought, as he read the fol- 
lowing words: 

MY DEAR MR. SOLENT: 

I am going out water-rat hunting with a basket for marigolds 
and to see if there are any moor-hens down there. I'm going to 
start directly after dinner with Loh and go down stream just like 
we did before. Miss Malakite wants us to have tea with her 
about five. So do come there if you can't come to the Lunt. 

This is from your little friend, Gerda. 

"It is from a child," he said as casually as he could, 
stepping up to his mother's side and waving the letter in 
front of her. He felt a tremendous reluctance to let her 
read it; and yet, being the woman she was, he dared not 
put it straight into his pocket. Nothing of this was hidden 
from Mrs. Solent; but she had had her little victory in 
the matter of Miss Gault, and she was in a mood to be 
indulgent now. 

"All right, Wolf, put it into your pocket. I don't want 
to see it. I expect you'll find much nicer barmaids in 
Blacksod than you ever did in Hammersmith. I won't 
interfere with your light-o'-loves. I never have, have I?" 

"No, you never have, Mother darling," he responded, 
with a rush of affection born of immense relief. And 
slipping Gerda's note into his coat-pocket, he leaned for- 
ward and took her handsome, ruddy face between the 
palms of his hands. 



212 WOLF SOLENT 

"But I'm off, now, my treasure; and don't expect me 
back till late tonight!" He hesitated for a moment, and 
then added: "You'd better not stay awake; though I 
know you will; but I shall be coming home with the 
Otters, and I'll let myself in quietly." 

He kissed her quickly and placed both his hands for a 
moment upon the rough mass of her grey hair. She 
smiled back at him gaily enough, but he wondered if 
that little sound he seemed conscious of in the cavity of 
her strong throat was an evidence of some other emo- 
tion. If it was, she swallowed it as completely and ef- 
fectively as if it had been a little silver minnow swal- 
lowed by a watchful pike. 

"I shall just go to bed, then, and read in bed," she 
cried jestingly, when he let her go. "I'm in the middle 
of a thrilling story about a young man who has every 
vice there is! I'm sure he's got some vices that even 
Selena Gault's never heard of. I'll go on with that; and 
if I want a little variety, Til read the book Cousin Carfax 
gave me about Chinese Rugs; and if that doesn't satisfy 
me, I'll read Casanova's Memoirs. No, I won't! I'll 
read Canon Pusey's Sermons or something of that sort 
. . . something that just rambles on and isn't modern 
or clever! So run off, and don't worry about me. By the 
way, I had my first caller this morning, when you were 
over at the Manor." 

"Who was that, Mother?" enquired Wolf, flicking his 
stick against his boot and thinking of the tombstone in 
Mr. Torp's yard. 

"Mrs. Otter!" she cried gaily. "And I believe we'll get 



YELLOW BRACKEN 213 

on splendidly. She told me how fond you and her son 
Jason were of each other." 

"Jason?" muttered Wolf. "Well, take care of yourself, 
darling! Don't work too hard in the garden. Remember 
tomorrow!" And he opened the door hastily and let him- 
self out. "Jason?" he muttered once more, as he strode 
down Lenty Lane. 

His walk to Blacksod that early afternoon was one 
long orgy of amorous evocations. He skirted the town in 
such an absorbed trance thai he found himself in the 
river-meadow before he realized that he'd left the streets 
behind. Nothing could have been more congruous with 
his mood that afternoon than this slow following of the 
waters of the Lunt! Past poplars and willows, past 
muddy ditches and wooden dams, past deserted cow-sheds 
and old decrepit barges half-drowned in water, past tall 
hedges of white-flowering blackthorn, past low thick 
hedges of scarcely budded hawthorn, past stupid large- 
bodied cattle with shiny red hides and enormous horns, 
past tender, melancholy cattle with liquid eyes and silky 
brown-and-white flanks, he made his way through those 
pleasant pastures. 

So beautiful was the relaxed Spring atmosphere, that 
by degrees the excitement of his sensuality ebbed a little; 
and the magic of Nature became of equal importance 
with the thrill of amorous pursuit. 

Though the sky was overcast, it was'overcast with such 
a heavenly "congregation of vapours" that Wolf would 
not have had it otherwise. There were filmy clouds float- 
ing there that seemed to be drifting like the scattered 



2J4 WOLF SOLENT 

feathers of enormous albatrosses in a pearl-white sea; 
and behind these feathery travellers was the milky ocean 
on which they floated. But even that was not all; for the 
very ocean seemed broken here and there into hollow 
spaces, ethereal gulfs in the fleecy whiteness; and through 
these gulfs was visible a pale yellowish mist, as if the 
universal air were reflecting millions of primrose-buds! 
Nor was even this vaporous luminosity the final revela- 
tion af those veiled heavens. Like the entrance to some 
great highway of the ether, whose air-spun pavement was 
not the colour of dust, but the colour of turquoise, there, 
at one single point above the horizon, the vast blue sky 
showed through. Transcending both the filmy whiteness 
and the vaporous yellowness, hovering there above the 
marshes of Sedgcmoor, this celestial Toll-Pike of the 
Infinite seemed to Wolf, as he walked towards it, like 
some entrance into an unknown dimension, into which 
it was not impossible to pass! Though in reality it was 
the background of all the clouds that surrounded it, it 
seemed in some mysterious way nearer than they were. 
It seemed like a harbour into which the very waters of the 
Lunt might flow. That incredible patch of blue seemed 
something into which he could plunge his hands and 
draw them forth again, filled like overflowing cups with 
the very ichor of happiness. Ah! That was the word. It 
was pure happiness, that blue patch! It was the very 
thing he had tried so clumsily to explain to that poor 
Tilly Valley, that both he and Mr. Urquhart so woefully 
lacked! And this was the thing, he thought, as he walked 
slowly on through the green, damp grass, after which his 
whole life was one obstinate quest. Ay! Where did it 



YELLOW BRACKEN 215 

grow, this happiness? Where did it bubble up free and 
unspoiled? Not, at any rate, in such "love" half sex, 
half reaction from sex that these two disordered people 
were pursuing! 

Not in asceticism, nor in vice! Where then? He began 
to stride forward with all his mind and all his soul fixed 
on that blue patch over Sedgemoor. Not in any human 
struggle of that kind! Rather in some large, free, unre- 
stricted recognition of something actually in Nature, 
something that came and went, something that the mind 
could evoke, something that required nothing save earth 
and sky for its fulfilment! 

Between himself and that blue patch there stretched 
now the great trunk of a bending willow, covered, as if 
by a liquid green mist, with its countless newly-budded 
twigs. The trunk seemed attracted down to the waters of 
the Lunt; and the waters of the Lunt seemed to rise a 
little, as they flowed on, in reciprocal attraction. And 
through the green buds of this bending trunk the patch 
of blue looked closer than ever. It was not any opening 
highway, not any ethereal road, as he had imagined at 
first. It was actually a pool of unfathomable blue water; 
a pool in space! As he looked at it now, those green 
willow-buds became living moss around its blue edge; 
and a great yellowish fragment of sky that leaned to- 
wards it became a tawny-skinned centaur, who, bending 
down his human head from his animal body, quenched 
his thirst in its purity. A yellow man-beast drinking 
draughts of blue water ! 

Wolf stopped dead-still and gazed at what he saw, as 
ever more nearly and more nearly what he saw became 



216 WOLF SOLENT 

what he imagined. This was what he wanted! This was 
what he sought! The brown earth was that tawny-skinned 
centaur; and the reason why the world was all so green 
about him was because all living souls the souls of 
grass-blades and tree-roots and river-reeds shared, after 
their kind, in the drinking up of that blue immensity by 
the great mouth of clay ! 

He moved on now again and slowly passed the bent 
tree. His thoughts relaxed and grew limp after his mo- 
ment of ecstasy; but such as they were, like languid- 
winged herons, they flapped heavily over the dykes and 
ditches of his life. 

He felt obstinately glad that through all those de- 
testable London years the weight of which, like chains 
that are thrown away, he had never realized till they 
were over he had just ploughed through his work at 
that college, his head bent, his shoulders hunched, his 
spirit concentrated, stoical, unyielding! What had it 
been in him that had kept him, for twelve heavy years, 
stubbornly at work on all that unbelievable drudgery? 
What had it been in him that had saved him from love- 
affairs, from marriage that had made it horrible for 
him to satisfy his sexual instincts with casual light-o'- 
loves from tap-rooms and music-halls? What had it 
been? He looked at a great alder-root that curved snake- 
like over the brown mud beneath the bank; and in the 
tenacious flexibility of that smooth phallic serpent of 
vegetation he seemed to detect an image of his own se- 
cretive life, craftily forcing its way forward, through a 
thousand obstacles, towards the liberation which it 
craved. 



YELLOW BRACKEN 217 

And what was this liberation? 

Happiness! But not any kind of happiness; not just 
the happiness of making love to Gerda Torp. 

He looked closely at the manner in which the alder- 
root dipped so adroitly and yet so naturally into the 
river. Yes! It was a kind of ecstasy he aimed at; the 
kind that loses itself, that merges itself; the kind that 
demands nothing in return! 

How could this ecstasy be called love? It was more 
than love. It was the coming to the surface of something 
unutterable. 

And then, like an automatic wheel that revolved in his 
brain, a wheel from one of whose spokes hung a bodiless 
human head, his thoughts brought him back to that Liv- 
ing Despair on the Waterloo steps. And he recalled what 
Jason Otter had said about pity: how if you had pity 
and there was one miserable consciousness left in the 
universe, you had no right to be happy. Oh, that was a 
wicked thought! You had, on the contrary, a desperately 
punctilious reason to be happy. 

That face upon the Waterloo steps gave you your hap- 
piness. It was the only gift it could give. Between your 
happiness and that face there was an umbilical cord. All 
suffering was a martyr's suffering, all happiness was a 
martyr's happiness, when once you got a glimpse of that 
cord ! It was the existence in the world of those two gross 
vulgar parodies of life, ennui and pleasure, that con- 
fused the issues, that blighted the distinctions. 

For about half a mile he walked steadily forward, 
letting the violence of this last thought be smoothed 
away by the feel of the damp soil under his feet, and the 



218 WOLF SOLENT 

cool touch, imperceptible in detail, through hid leather 
boots of all the anonymous weeds and grasses that 
were beginning to feel the release of Spring. 

Ah, there they were! 

He came upon them quite suddenly, as he clambered 
over a wooden paling between the end of a thick-set 
hedge and the river-bank, the wooden boards of which, 
worm-eaten and grey with lichen, jutted out over the 
water. 

They were seated side by side on a fallen elm-tree, ar- 
ranging the contents of a great wicker-basket that lay 
on the ground between them. 

"Hullo!" cried Lob, jumping to his feet. 

Wolf took the boy in his arms and began a sort of 
genial horse-play with him, tumbling him over in the 
grass and holding him down by force as he kicked and 
struggled. But Lob soon wearied of this, and, lying 
quietly under the man's hands, turned his mud-flicked, 
grass-stained face towards his sister. 

"You see I be right, Sis! So hand over thik ninepence. 
He be come, same as I said 'a would. So hand over what 
I've won!" 

Wolf became aware that a fit of sudden shyness had 
fallen upon both himself and Gerda. He continued to 
kneel above the prostrate Lob, pinioning the child's arms 
and putting off the moment when he must rise and face 
her. Gerda, too, seemed to prolong with unnecessary 
punctiliousness her fumbling with the ragged recesses 
of her faded little purse, as she emptied pennies and bits 
of silver into her lap. 

"Ninepence! It was ninepence!" the boy kept shouting, 



YELLOW BRACKEN 219 

as he sought in vain to lift up his eager grass-stained 
face high enough to see what the girl was doing: "It was 
sixpence if he went to Malakite's ! It was ninepence if he 
came here!" 

Wolf, bending over his prisoner, found himself watch- 
ing the progress of a minute ladybird who with infinite 
precaution was climbing the bent stalk of a small grass- 
blade close to the boy's head. But he was so conscious of 
Gerda's presence that a slow, sweet, shivering sensation 
ran through his nerves, as if in the midst of a great heat 
his body had been plunged into the cool air of a cavern. 

"There, Lob!" said Gerda suddenly, holding out six- 
pence and three pennies. 

Wolf let the child go and stood up. 

Their eyes met through the boy's violent scramble and 
snatching clutch. They met through his cry of "Finding's 
keepings, losing's seekings! Bet me enough to make a 
shilling! I be a prime grand better, / be!" 

And, as their eyes met, the shyness that they had felt 
before changed into a thrilling solemnity. For one quick 
moment they held each other's gaze; and it was as if they 
had been overtaken simultaneously by an awe-struck 
recognition of some great unknown Immortal, who had 
suddenly appeared between them, with a hand upon each. 

Then the girl turned to her brother. 

"I bet you, Lob," she said, "you won't find a black- 
bird's nest round here with eggs in it!" 

"How much?" the boy responded, standing in front 
of her with his hands behind his head, in the pose of a 
young, indolent conqueror.' 

"How much! how much!" mocked Wolf, with heavy 



220 WOLF SOLENT 

humour, seating himself on the tree-trunk by Gerda's 
side. "What a young miser we are!" As he took his place 
by her side, the floating barge upon which it seemed to 
him they were embarked rocked with a motion that gave 
him a sense of sweet dizziness. 

Lob looked at his sister gravely, weighing the matter 
in his mind. 

"You won't hunt rats with him when I'm not there?" 
he bargained. 

She shook her head. 

" 'Tis early for them nesties ; but I do know for three 
o'n already; up along Babylon Hill. They be all hipsy- 
hor hedges, looks-like, in this here field; and blackbirds 
be fonder o' holly-trees and bramble-bushes. But they 
hain't so sly, the bloody old yellow-beaks, as them 
thrushes be. I think I'll do it, Sis." 

"I think I may take her bond," muttered Wolf under 
his breath. 

"I haven't heard one of them since we came," said 
Gcrda cunningly. "They like the hills better than down 
here on the flat. I wouldn't have betted so much if I 
wasn't sure I'd win." 

"/ ain't betted nothink," said Lob quickly, "so you 
can't win anyways. It's either us both loses, or it's me 
what wins." 

Gerda nodded assent to this unchivalrous issue. 

"Well, I may as well have a look round," decided the 
boy; "only mind no tricks! If you rat-hunt with him 
when I ain't there, 'twill be threepence whatsoever." 

She indicated assent to this also. 

Lob began to swagger slowly away. 



YELLOW BRACKEN 221 

"I knows why you wants me to shogg off," he called 
back; and he added an outrageous expression in shrewd 
Dorset dialect which had the effect of bringing an angry 
flush to Gerda's cheeks. 

"Be off, you rogue," cried Wolf, "or you'll get more 
than you've bargained for!" 

But there came flying through the air, from the child's 
impudent hand, a well-aimed puffball, which burst as it 
touched Gerda's knee, covering her dress with a thin, 
powdery brown dust. 

Neither she nor Wolf moved a muscle in response to 
this attack; and Lobbie wandered slowly off till he was 
lost to sight. Then the girl got up and began shaking her 
skirt. The cream-coloured cloak hung loose and open, 
and Wolf saw that she was dressed in an old, tight-fitting, 
olive-green frock. 

When she had finished brushing the puffball-powder 
from her clothes, she took off her hat and laid it care- 
fully, absent-mindedly, upon the tree-trunk by his side. 

He instantaneously threw his arms round her and 
held her tightly against him, while in the silence be- 
tween them he felt his heart beating like an invisible 
underground water-pump. 

But she unloosed his hands with deft, cool fingers. "Not 
now," she said. "Let's talk now." 

In some mysterious way he was grateful to her for 
this. The last thing he wanted was to spoil the strange, 
lovely solemnity that had fallen upon them like the 
falling of slow, thin, noiseless rain. 

He rose and took her hand, and they began moving 
away from the log. 



222 WOLF SOLENT 

"Wait! I'll leave a signal for that little rascal," he 
said, putting his stick and his cloth-cap by the side of 
the cream-coloured hat. But he did not give up her hand; 
and together they walked carelessly and aimlessly across 
that wide field, taking a course at right angles to the 
course taken by her brother. Wolf had hitherto, in his 
attitude to the girls he had approached, been dominated 
by an impersonal lust; but what he now felt stealing 
over him like a sweet, insidious essence, was the actual, 
inmost identity of this young human animal. And the 
strange thing was that this conscious presence, this deep- 
breathing Gerda, moving silently beside him under her 
cloak, under her olive-green frock, under everything she 
wore, was not just a girl, not just a white, flexible body, 
with lovely breasts, slender hips, and a gallant swinging 
stride, but a living conscious soul, different in its entire 
being from his own identity. 

What he felt at that moment was that, hovering in 
some way around this tangible form, was another form, 
impalpable and delicate, thrilling him with a kind of 
mystical awe. It changed everything around him, this 
new mysterious being at his side, whose physical love- 
liness was only its outward sheath ! It added something to 
every tiniest detail of that enchanted walk which they 
took together now over one green field after another. 
The little earth-thrown mole-hills were different. The 
reddish leaves of the newly-sprung sorrel were different. 
The droppings of the cattle, the clumps of dark-green 
meadow-rushes, all were different! And something in 
the cold, low-hung clouds themselves seemed to conspire, 
like a great stretched-out grey wing, to separate Gerda 



YELLOW BRACKEN 223 

and himself from the peering intrusion of the outer 
world. 

And if the greyness above and the greenness beneath 
enhanced his consciousness of the virginal beauty of the 
girl, her own nature at that hour seemed to gather into 
itself all that most resembled it in that Spring twilight. 

Gate after gate leading from one darkening field into 
another they opened and passed through, walking un- 
consciously westward, towards the vast yellowish bank 
of clouds that had swallowed up that sky-road into space. 
It was so far only the beginning of twilight, but the un- 
dried rains that hung still in motionless water-drops upon 
millions of grass-blades seemed to welcome the coming 
on of night seemed to render the whole surface of the 
earth less opaque. 

Over this cold surface they moved hand in hand, be- 
tween the unfallen mist of rain in the sky and the dif- 
fused mist of rain in the grass, until the man began to 
feel that they two were left alone alive, of all the people 
of the earth that they two, careless of past and future, 
protected from the very ghosts of the dead by these tute- 
lary vapours, were moving forward, themselves like 
ghosts, to some vague imponderable sanctuary where 
none could disturb or trouble them! 

They had advanced for more than a mile in this en- 
chanted mood, and were leaning against a wooden gate 
which they had just shut behind them, when Wolf pointed 
to an open shed, about a stone's throw away, the floor of 
which he could make out, from where they stood, to be 
strewn with a carpet of yellow bracken. 

"Shall we try that as a shelter?" he asked. The words 



224 WOLF SOLENT 

were simple enough. But Gerda detected in them the old, 
equivocal challenge of the male pursuer; and as he 
pulled at her wrist, trying to lead her towards the shed, 
she stiffened her body, snatched her hand away, and 
drew back against the protective bars of the gate. Very 
quickly then, so as to smooth away any hurt to his pride, 
she began to speak; and since silence rather than words 
had hitherto been the link between them, the mere utter- 
ance of any speech from her at all was a shock strong 
enough to quell his impetuousness. 

"Did you like me directly you saw me, that day in our 
house?" 

He looked at her attentively, as, with her fair head 
bare and her arms spread out along the top bar of the 
gate, she asked this nai've question. 

It suddenly came over him that she had not really the 
remotest conception as to how rare her beauty was. She 
regarded herself, of course, as a "pretty" girl, but she 
had no notion that she moved through Blacksod like one 
of those women of antiquity about whose loveliness the 
noblest legends of the world were made! A certain vein 
of predatory roguery in him led him to play up to this 
simplicity. 

"I liked you best when you were whistling to me," he 
said. But in his senses he thought : "I should be a madman 
not to snatch at her!" And in his soul he thought: "I shall 
marry her. As sure as tomorrow follows today, I shall 
marry her!" 

"I liked you best when you were hunting for me at 
Poll's Camp," said Gerda. "But I can't understand " 

"What can't you understand, Gerda?" 



YELLOW BRACKEN 225 

"I can't understand why I don't want you to touch me 
just now. But oh! if you only knew what things they say 
in the town about girls and men!" 

She looked him straight in the face with an ambiguous 
tilt of her soft, rounded chin. Something had come be- 
tween them something that troubled him seriously, 
though not with the sense of any unscalable barrier. 

"What things do they say in the town?" he asked. 

At this she clapped her hands to her cheeks, and a look 
of troubled bewilderment crossed her fixed gaze. 

He began to wonder if the girl, for all her coquetries, 
was not abnormally innocent. Perhaps the extreme lewd- 
ness of lads like Bob Weevil had, in some of those furtive 
conclaves between young people that are always so com- 
plete a mystery to older persons, given her some kind of 
startled shock. 

Slowly her hands fell to her sides, and the troubled 
look faded; but she still faced him with a faint, trem- 
ulous frown, while the delicate curves about her eyes 
took on that expression of monumental beseeching, such 
as one sees sometimes in antique marbles. 

His craving to take her in his arms was checked by a 
wave of overpowering tenderness. 

As she stood there, with her back to the gate, her per- 
sonality struck home to him with such a sharp, sudden 
pang of reality, that it made certain tiny little blossoms 
of the blackthorn-hedge become strangely important, as 
if they had been an apparition of wonderful white 
swans. 

"Well, never mind what they say in the town! You 
and I are by ourselves now. It's only you and I that count 



226 WOLF SOLENT 

today. And I won't tease you, Gerda, you darling no, 
not with one least thing you don't like!" 

He was silent, and they remained motionless, staring 
at each other like two stone pillars bearing the solemn 
weight of the unknown future. Then he possessed himself 
of one of her hands, and it was a new shock to him to feel 
how ice-cold her fingers had grown. 

"Don't act as if we're strangers, Gerda!" he pleaded. 
"I do understand you much more than you think I do. 
And I'll take care of you for ever! It isn't as if time 
mattered one bit. I feel as if I'd known you all my life. 
I feel as if everything here" and he glanced round at 
those strangely important white blossoms "were an old 
story already. It's funny, Ge*da, isn't it, how natural and 
yet how weird it is, that we should have met at all? Only 
a week ago I was in London, with no remotest idea 
that you were in the world or this gate, or this black- 
thorn-hedge, or that shed over there!" 

Her cold fingers did respond a little to his pressure 
now, and her eyes fell and searched the ground at her 
feet. Without a sigh, without a breath, she pondered, 
floating upon some inner sea of feeling, of which no one, 
not even herself, would ever know the depths. 

"You are glad we've met, Gerda, dear?" he asked. 

She raised her eyes. They had the tension of a sudden, 
difficult resolution in them. 

"Do men ever leave girls alone after they've married 
them?" 

The words were so unexpected that he could only press 
her cold fingers and glance away from those troubled 
eyes. What his own gaze encountered was a single tar- 



YELLOW BRACKEN 227 

nished celandine, whose bent stalk lay almost flat on a 
wisp of rain-sodden grass. 

"When we're married," he responded gravely, after a 
pause, during which he felt as if with his own hands he 
were launching a rigged ship into a misty sea, "I'll leave 
you alone just as much as you want!" 

"A girl I know said once that my whistling was only 
whistling for a lover. You don't think that, do you?" 

"Good God! I should think not! Your whistling's a 
wonderful thing. It's your genius. It's your way of ex- 
pressing what we all want to express." 

"What do we all want to express?" 

He chuckled right out at this, and, forgetting all vows 
and pledges, flung his arms round her shoulders and 
hugged her tightly to his heart. "Oh, Gerda, Gerda!" he 
cried breathlessly, as he let her go, "you'll be soon mak- 
ing me so damnably fond of you, that I'll be completely 
at your mercy!" 

"But what do we all want to express?" she repeated. 

He felt such a rush of happiness at the change in her 
voice that he could only answer at random. 

"God! my dear, / don't know! Recognition, I suppose. 
No! not exactly that! Gratitude, perhaps. But that's not 
quite it. You've asked a hard question, sweetheart, and 
I'm damned if I can give you the answer." He drew her 
towards him as he spoke, and this time she seemed to 
yield herself as she had never" done before. But the 
warmth of her body, as he pressed it to him, dissolved 
his tender consideration so quickly that once more she 
drew back. 

Hurriedly anxious to rush in between her thoughts and 



228 WOLF SOLENT 

herself, he began saying the first thing that came into 
his head. 

"I think what we all want to express is ... something 
. . . addressed ... to ... to the gods . . . some kind 
of ... acknowledgement " 

He stopped abruptly; for she had once more fixed 
upon him that wild, bewildered look. 

"You're not angry with me, Gerda, darling?" he 
blurted out. 

She did not take any notice of these words of his, but 
the look he dreaded began to fade away under the gen- 
uine concern of his tone. 

She now pulled her cream-coloured cloak tightly 
across her olive-green frock; and instead of relinquish- 
ing the garment when she'd done this, she kept her arms 
crossed against her breast, holding the gathered folds of 
the woollen stuff. Then her lips moved, and, looking 
away from him, sideways, over the wide field, she said 
very quietly: 

"If you feel it's no good, and you couldn't think of 
marrying a girl like me, you'd better let me go home 
now." 

He never forgot the solemn fatality she put into those 
words; and he answered in the only way he could. He 
took her head gently between his hands and kissed her 
upon the forehead. This action, in its grave tenderness 
and its freedom from any fever of the blood, did seem to 
reassure her. 

But the attraction of her sweetness soon excited his 
senses again and he began caressing her in spite of 



YELLOW BRACKEN 229 

himself. She did not resist him any more; but the re- 
action from the former tenseness of her nerves broke 
down her self-control, and he soon became aware of the 
salt taste of tears upon his lips. She did not cry aloud. 
She cried silently; but the sobs that shook her showed, 
in the very power they had over her, the richness and 
vitality of her youthful blood. 

The fact that he had launched his boat and hoisted his 
sail the fact that he had already resolved to marry her, 
comer what might was something that in itself dispelled 
his scruples. 

"It's cold here," he murmured, when at last she had 
lifted up her tear-stained face and they had exchanged 
some long kisses; "it's cold here, Gerda, darling. Let's 
just see what that shed over there's like! We needn't stay 
a minute there if it's not a nice sort of place." 

A species of deep, lethargic numbness to everything 
except the immediate suggestions of his voice and touch 
seemed to have taken possession of her. 

His arm round her, her cream-coloured cloak hanging 
loose, her cheeks pale, she let herself be led across the 
intervening tract of grass to the open door of the little 
shed. 

Before they reached it, however, she turned her face 
round and glanced shyly at him. "You know I'm quite 
stupid and ignorant," she said. "I know nothing about 
anything." 

Wolf did not pause to enquire whether this hurried 
confession referred to what might be named "the ritual 
of love" or just simply to her lack of book-learning. His 



230 WOLF SOLENT 

senses were by this time in such a whirl of excitement 
that the girl's clear-toned voice sounded like the vague 
humming of a sea-shell in his ears. 

"Gerda?" he murmured huskily, with a faint, a very 
faint interrogation in his tone. 

Emotions, feelings, desires, some exalted, some brutal, 
whirled up from the bottom of his nature, like storm- 
driven eels roused and stirred from the ooze of a muddy 
river ! 

Together they stood at the entrance to that little shed 
and surveyed the interior in a silence that was like the 
hovering of some great falcon of fate, suspended between 
past and future. The place was an empty cow-barn, its 
roof thatched with river-reeds and its floor thickly strewn 
with a clean, dry bed of last Autumn's yellow bracken. 

The queer thing was that as he drew her across that 
threshold his conscious soul seemed to slip out of his 
body and to watch them both from the high upper air as 
if it were itself that falcon of fate. But when, with their 
feet upon that bracken-floor, they faced each other, there 
suddenly floated into Wolf's mind, like the fluttering of a 
whirling leaf upon disturbed water, an old Dorset ditty 
that he had read somewhere, with a refrain about 
Shaftesbury-town. 

"I know nothing about anything," repeated the girl 
in a low voice; but as he held her tightly against his 
beating heart, it was not her words but the words of that 
old song which hummed through his brain. 

There'll be yellow bracken beneath your head; 
There'll be yellow bracken about your feet. 
For the lass Long Thomas lays in's bed 
Will have no blanket, will have no sheet. 



YELLOW BRACKEN 231 

My mother has sheets of linen white, 
My father has blankets of purple dye. 
But to my true-love have I come tonight 
And in yellow bracken I'll surely lie: 

In the yellow bracken he laid her down, 
While the wind blew shrill and the river ran; 
And never again she saw Shaftesbury-town, 
Whom Long Thomas had taken for his leman! 

The smell of the bracken rose up from that bed and 
took the words of this old song and turned them into the 
wild beating of the very pulse of love. 

To the end of his days he associated that moment with 
these dried-up aromatic leaves and with that remembered 
rhyme. The sweetness of his paramour, her courage, her 
confiding trust, her "fatal passivity," were blended with 
the fragrance of those withered ferns and with that old 
ballad. 

Meanwhile the chilly March airs floated in and out of 
the bare shed where they were lying; and the shades of 
twilight grew deeper and deeper. Those twilight ^shades, 
as they settled down about their heads, became like ver- 
itable sentinels of love wraith-like, reverential, patient. 
They seemed to be holding back the day, so that it should 
not peer into their faces. They seemed to be holding back 
the darkness, so that it should not separate them, the 
one from the other! 

And as they lay happy and oblivious at last just as 
if they were really lying on the xleck of some full-sailed 
ship which a great dark-green wave was uplifting, Wolf 
found himself unaccountably recalling certain casual 
little things that he had seen that day seen without 
knowing that he had seen them! He recalled the under- 



232 WOLF SOLENT 

side of the bark of a torn-off willow-branch that he had 
caught sight of in his walk by the Lunt. He recalled the 
peculiar whitish-yellowness hidden in the curves of an 
opening fern-frond which he had passed somewhere on 
the road from King's Barton. He recalled the sturdy 
beauty, full of a rich, harsh, acrid power, of a single 
chestnut-bud, which he had unconsciously noted in the 
outskirts of Blacksod. He recalled certain tiny snail- 
shells clinging to the stalk of some new-grown dock-leaf 
whose appearance had struck his mind somewhere in 
those meadows. . . . 

When, after the slow ebbing of what really was a very 
brief passage of time, but what seemed to Wolf some- 
thing more than time and different from time, they stood 
together again outside the hut, there came over him a 
vague feeling, as if he had actually invaded and pos- 
sessed something of the virginal aloofness of the now 
darkened fields. 

With his hand over Gerda's shoulder he drank up a 
great mystery from those cool, wide spaces. His fingers 
clutched the soft collar of the girl's cloak. He was con- 
scious of her breathing so steady, so gently, and yet so 
living like the breath of a warm, soft animal in the 
velvet darkness. He was conscious of her personality as 
something quivering and quick, and yet as something 
solitary, unapproachable. 

Suddenly she broke the silence. 

"Do you want me to whistle for you?" she asked, in 
a low, docile voice. 

The words reached his ears from an enormous distance. 
They came travelling to him over rivers, over mountains, 



YELLOW BRACKEN 233 

over forests; and as they took shape in his consciousness, 
something quite different from what he had felt for her 
swelled up in his throat. He took her head between his 
hands and kissed her as he had never in his life kissed 
any woman. 

"Lob will hear it," he said with a rough, happy laugh. 
"But let him hear it! What does it matter now?" 

But she moved a few paces away and he watched her 
whitish shadowily-blurred face as if it had been the face 
of an immortal. 

And he knew, without seeing that it was so, that her 
expression as she whistled was like the expression of a 
child asleep, or of a child happily, peacefully dead. 

And, though it was into the night that she now poured 
those liquid notes, the tone of their drawn-out music was 
a tone full of the peculiar feeling of one hour alone of 
all the hours of night and day. It was the tone of the hour 
just before dawn, the tone of that life which is not sound, 
but only withheld breath, the breath of cold buds not 
yet green, of earth-bound bulbs not yet loosed from their 
sheaths, the tone of the flight of swallows across chilly 
seas as yet far off from the warm pebbled beaches to- 
wards which they are steering their way. 

Gerda's whistling died away now into a silence that 
seemed to come surging back with a palpable increase of 
visible darkness in its train. 

But the girl remained standing just where she was, 
quite motionless, about ten paces away from him. 

He also remained motionless, where he was, without 
sign or word. 

And just as two straight poplar-trees that in some con- 



234 WOLF SOLENT 

tinuous storm had been bent down so that their branches 
have mingled, when the storm is over rise up erect and 
are once more completely separate and completely them- 
selves, so this man and this girl, whose relation to each 
other could never be quite the same again, remained dis- 
tinct, removed, aloof, each standing like a silent bivouac- 
watcher, guarding the smouldering camp-fire of their 
own hidden thoughts. 

Thus, and not otherwise, had stood, in the green dews 
of some umbrageous Thessalian valley at the very dawn 
of time, Orion and Merope, joined and yet so mysteri- 
ously divided by this sweet fatality! So in the same green 
dews had stood Deucalion and Pyrrha, while the earth 
waited for its new offspring. They also, those primeval 
lovers, had pondered thus, content and happy, bewil- 
dered and sad, while over their heads the darkness de- 
scended upon Mount Pelion, or the white moonlight 
flooded with silver the precipices of Ossa! 

As he thought of these things, he made up his mind 
that he would refrain from any sentimental attempt to 
bridge the impassable gulf between what Gerda was feel- 
ing then and what he was feeling. . . . No casual words 
of easy tenderness should spoil the classical simplicity of 
their rare encounter! For classical it had been, in its 
arbitrariness, in its abruptness, in its heroic defiance of 
so many obstacles; as he had always prayed that any 
great love-affair of his might be. 

Their words to each other, when at length they did 
break the spell and wander back hand in hand to where 
they had separated from Lob, were simple and natural 



YELLOW BRACKEN 235 

reduced, in fact, to the plain level of prosaic, practical 
anxieties. 

"It's the devil!" grumbled Wolf; "but there it is, 
sweetheart, and we've got to face it. It's not only my 
mother, but your mother we shall have to deal with. I 
know only too well that I've never been to Oxford. I 
know I have no 'honourable' in front of my name and 
I know that what Mr. Urquhart gives me will be barely 
enough for three people to live upon. There it is, my 
sweet, and we've got to face it." 

"I don't think your mother will want to live with us," 
said the girl quietly. 

Wolf winced at this. Somehow or other he had 
grown so used to thinking of his mother and himself as 
one person, that it gave him a very queer feeling as if 
Gerda had inserted a tiny needle of ice into his heart 
to think of the two of them under separate roofs. 

A moment later, however, and the feeling passed, 
crushed under the logic of his reason. It was, of course, 
inevitable so he said to himself that Gerda, young 
girl though she was, should want a hearth of her own. 

"No," he answered, emphatically enough. "We must 
live by ourselves." 

"Father won't give us anything," said Gerda. 

"That's all right," he chuckled, laughing surlily but 
not maliciously. "I've no desire to be supported out of 
tomb-making ! No, no, sweetheart ; what we've got to find 
is some tiny shanty of our own, almost as small as our 
cow-shed, where neither your mother nor my mother can 
interfere with us." 



236 WOLF SOLENT 

"Do you think Mrs. Solent will be very angry?" she 
enquired. 

This time her words produced a more serious shock. 
He felt as if one of his arms or legs had been amputated 
and was stuck up as a ninepin for Gerda to throw things 
at, not knowing what she did. 

"I'll deal with her, anyway," he replied. 

"We'll have to have our banns read out in church," 
said Gerda. 

"We shall!" he conceded, bringing out the syllables 
like pistol-shots; "but all that part of it will be awful." 

Gerda snatched her fingers from him and clapped her 
hands together. "Don't let's be married!" she cried 
gaily. "It'll be far more fun not to be; and if I have a 
child it'll be a bastard, like the kings in history!" 

But Wolf had already formed a very definite image in 
his mind of the enchanted hovel where he would live 
with this unparalleled being, free from all care. 

"We can't manage it without being married, Gerda; 
and as for bastards " 

"Hush!" she cried. "We're talking nonsense. Gipoo 
Cooper told me I should never have a child." 

Wolf was silenced by this; and then, after a pause, "I 
don't believe Urquhart would make any fuss," he said 
meditatively. "It wouldn't interfere with my work." 

"What you don't realize," she protested in a low 
voice, "is how completely different my family is from 
yours. Why, Father never says a word like he'd been 
educated or been to School." 

But Wolf refused to let this pass. 

"Perhaps you don't realize, Missy," he flung out, in 



YELLOW BRACKEN 237 

a clear, emphatic voice, "that my father died in Rams- 
gard Workhouse!" 

Her commentary upon this information was to snatch 
his hand and raise it to her lips. 

" Tisn't where a gentleman dies," she responded, "that 
makes the difference. Tis where he's born." 

"Oh, damn all this!" he cried abruptly. "I don't care 
if your father talks his head off with Dorset talk; and 
all Blacksod knows that my father threw himself to the 
dogs. I'm going to live for the rest of my life in Dorset- 
shire, and I'm going to live alone with my sweet 
Gerda!" 

He hugged her to his heart as he spoke. 

"I'm very thankful that you like my whistling," she 
said, rather breathlessly, when he let her go. "I don't 
know what I should have done if you hadn't." 

"Like it!" he cried. "Oh, Gerda, my Gerda, I can't tell 
you what it's like. I've never heard anything to touch it 
and never shall; and that's the long and short of it!" 

Thus discoursing, the lovers arrived at the prostrate 
elm-trunk where they had left their belongings. It looked 
so familiar and yet so different now, as they stumbled 
upon it in the darkness, that Wolf received the kind of 
shock that people get when, after some world-changing 
adventure, they encounter the reproachful sameness of 
some well-known aspect of hearth and home. And there 
was Lob! The boy was crouched in a posture like that 
of a reproachful goblin. He was engaged in cutting with 
his pocket-knife in spite of the darkness deep, jagged 
incisions in the handle of Wolf's stick! Much time was 
to pass before those unevennesses in the handle of that 



238 WOLF SOLENT 

oak cudgel ceased to compel its owner to recall with 
bitter-sweet vividness the events of that incredible March 
Wednesday ! 

"I know'd you'd go rat-hunting," was his sulky greet- 
ing. Evidently to Lob's mind no other occupation than 
this could account for their protracted absence from his 
side. "I know'd you'd do it. Girls is never to be trusted, 
girls isn't. 'Tis in their constitution to betray." 

"Good Lord, Lob!" cried Wolf. "Where did you get 
that sentence? Have you been composing that speech 
ever since we left?" 

"Look here, Sis," declared the boy, standing in front 
of her with the air of a robber-chief. "You've got to fork 
out! You've got to give threepence to I, or never no more 
will I take your word!" 

But the girl's tone was now the self-composed, elder 
sister's tone. 

"I hope you only took one egg, Lob; like I always tell 
you to." 

"I won," he repeated obstinately. "I won; so you 
pays." 

"Show me the egg," said Gerda. "Where is it? I hope 
it wasn't the only one. Have you blown it without making 
that silly big hole you always make? Show it to me, 
Lob!" 

"I can't show it to 'ee, for I ain't got it," grumbled the 
boy. "I got a nest, all right; and I got a egg all right. 
There were four on 'em all wonderful specks in thik 
nest; and I minded what you always says to I, and I 
only took one." 

"Where is it, then? Show it to us, Lob!" 



YELLOW BRACKEN 239 

Lob moved nearer to Wolf. "You won't let she cheat I 
of thik threepence," he pleaded querulously. 

"Where is that egg, Lob?" repeated the young girl. 
"He's up to something; you mark my words!" she added. 

"They girls be never to be trusted, be they?" grumbled 
the boy, sidling up still closer to Wolf. 

"You know perfectly well you can always trust me, 
Lob!" protested Gerda indignantly. "It's you who we 
can't trust now; isn't it, Mr. Solent?" 

The man looked from one to the other. It amused him 
to listen to such contending voices from these two blurred 
spots of whiteness in the dark; while he himself, full of 
an unutterably sweet indolence, acted as their languid 
umpire. He was delighted, too, as well as amazed, by the 
intense gravity with which Gerda took this trifling dis- 
agreement. How quaint girls were! If he had caught Lob 
stealing his very walch in the darkness and transferring 
it to his own pocket, he felt, just then, that he would 
hardly have noticed the incident! 

"Haven't I won over she, Mr. Solent?" whined the 
child. "I found thik nestie fields and fields away from 
where us be now. 'Twere in monstrous girt hedge, thik 
nestie, and I scratched myself cruel getting my hand in." 

"Why haven't you got the egg, then?" insisted the girl, 
in a hard, accusing voice. 

" 'Cos I broke the bloody thing!" wailed the boy des- 
perately. "I were crossing one of they darned fields and 
I treadit in a girt rabbit-gin and came near to breaking 
me neck, let alone thik bloody egg." 

"Lob, I'm right-down ashamed of you!" cried Gerda, 
in a voice quivering with moral indignation. 



240 WOLF SOLENT 

"What be up to now, then?" responded the boy. "What 
be all this hullabaloo about, when a person tells straight 
out what a person gone and done? If it be so turble hard 
to 'ee to lose threepence, why did 'ee go rat-hunting with 
him here and leave anyone all lonesome-like? For all 
you care, a chap might have been tossed, this here dark 
night, by some o' they girt bullicks!" 

His voice grew plaintive; but Gerda was unmoved. 

"You never found any nest at all, Lob, and you know 
you didn't." 

Lobbie's voice sounded now as if he very soon might 
burst into tears. 

"I shan't have no shilling! I shan't have no shilling 
without I gets the threepence you betted wi' I!" 

Wolf began fumbling in his pocket; but the girl 
stopped him with a quick movement. 

"Lob," she said sternly, "you've never lied to me be- 
fore, in all the rat-hunts, and nuttings, and blackberry- 
ings, and mushroomings we've ever had together. What's 
come over you, Lob? Oh, I am ashamed of you! Tisn't 
as if I were Mother or Dad. 'Tisn't as if we hadn't al- 
ways done everything together. You're not nice company, 
any more, Lob, for people to go about with! I shall al- 
ways have to say to anyone in the future, 'Take care, 
now, you can never depend upon what Lob Torp says!' " 

Wolf, seating himself in the darkness upon the fallen 
tree-trunk, listened in amazement to this dialogue. The 
moods of women, except for those of his mother, were a 
phenomenon the ebbings and Sowings of which had 
hardly presented themselves to his deeper consciousness. 
He obtained now, in listening to Gerda's righteous anger, 



YELLOW BRACKEN 241 

an inkling of the supernatural power which these beings 
have of bringing to bear upon the male conscience ex- 
actly that one accusation, of all others, which will pierce 
it to its heart's core! 

He had no conception of how Gerda had found out 
that the boy was lying, and he felt at that moment a 
faint and perhaps scandalous wave of sympathy pass 
through him for Lobbie Torp. 

Lob himself felt this at once with a child's clairvoy- 
ance. 

"She's cross about the threepence," he whispered, lean- 
ing against the man's knee, "but you'll pay it, won't you, 
Mr. Solent?" 

Wolf had grown weary by this time of the whole dis- 
cussion. He took advantage of the darkness to transfer 
from his own pocket to that of this fellow wrong-doer at 
least twice as much as he was demanding. 

"Come on," he said, when the clandestine transaction 
was accomplished, "let's get back to the Blacksod road 
before we're completely benighted!" 

He rose and moved on between them, Lob in penitent 
and rather shamefaced silence carrying the great wicker- 
basket, at the bottom of which reposed a few fading mari- 
golds and some handfuls of watercress. 

The excitement of climbing over the railings at the 
very edge of the river-bank, and the pride she took in be- 
ing able to show her power of guiding her lover through 
the darkened fields, quickly restored Gerda's good- 
humour. 

"We'll drop Lob at the beginning of Chequers Street," 
Wolf said, when they at last felt the hard road from 



242 WOLF SOLENT 

Nevilton to Blacksod under their feet. "Do you think," 
he went on, "that Miss Malakite will expect us still, so 
long after tea-time?" 

"I was going to stay to supper with her," said Gerda; 
"so I don't think it'll matter. She'll give us tea, though, 
late as we are! She won't have noticed the time at all, 
very likely. She never does, when her father's away and 
she's reading." 

With the sister and brother leaning against him nat- 
urally and familiarly, each on one of his arms, Wolf 
with his oak-stick held firmly in the hand adjoining the 
now somewhat dragging and tired bird's-nester, strode 
along towards the lights of the town, in a deep, diffused 
warmth of unalloyed happiness. The days of his life 
seemed to stretch out before him in a lovely Spring- 
scented perspective. 

The few misgivings that remained to him about his 
marriage fell away in that hedge-scented darkness a 
darkness that seemed to separate the earth from the sky 
with the formless presence of some tremendous but 
friendly deity, under whose protection he bore those two 
along. And as he felt Gerda press his arm softly and 
lightly against her young body, the sensation came over 
him that he had only to walk on and on ... on and on 
. . . just like this ... in order to bring that secret 
"mythology" of his into relation with the whole world. 

"Whom Long Thomas has taken for his leman," he re- 
peated in his heart; and it seemed to him as if the lights 
of the town, which now began to welcome them, were the 
lights of a certain imaginary city which from his early 
childhood had appeared and disappeared on the margin 



YELLOW BRACKEN 243 

of his mind. It was wont to appear in strange places, this 
city of his fancy ... at the bottom of teacups ... or 
the window-panes of privies ... in the soapy water of 
baths ... in the dirty marks on wall-papers ... in 
the bleak coals of dead Summer-grates . . . between the 
rusty railings of deserted burying-grounds . . . above 
the miserable patterns of faded carpets . . . among the 
nameless litter of pavement-gutters. . . . But whenever 
he had seen it, it was always associated with the first 
lighting up of lamps, and with the existence, but not 
necessarily the presence, of someone . . . some girl . . . 
some boy . . . some unknown . . . whose place in his 
life would resemble that first lighting of lamps . . . that 
sense of arriving out of the cold darkness of empty fields 
and lost ways into the rich, warm, glowing security of 
that mysterious town. . . . 

"Whom Long Thomas has taken for his leman," he 
repeated once more. And he thought to himself, "It's all 
in that word ... in that word; and in coming along a 
dark road to where lamps are lit!" 



THE THREE PEEJPITS 



1 HEY GOT RID OF LOBBIE AT THE CORNER OF CHEQUERS 
Street, and moved on, side by side, past the lighted shop- 
windows. It was a further revelation to him of the ways 
of girls, to notice that Gerda repeatedly stopped him, 
with a childish clutch at his coat-sleeve, before some 
trifle in those lighted windows that attracted her atten- 
tion. Her eyes were dreamy with a soft languorous hap- 
piness; while her little cries of pleasure at what she saw 
made ripples in the surface of her mental trance like the 
rising of a darting shoal of minnows to the top of deep 
water. 

As for his own mood, the lights of the town, its traffic 
and its crowds, threw him upon a rich, dark, incredible 
intimacy with her, whose sweetness reduced everything 
to a vague reassuring stage-play. Everything became a 
play whose living puppets seemed so touchingly lovable 
that he could have wept to behold them, and to know that 
she was beholding them with him! 

When they reached the door of the Malakite book-shop, 
however, he became conscious of so deep an unwilling- 
ness to face the look of Christie's steady brown eyes that 
he impetuously begged off. 

"I can't do it tonight," he said; "so don't 'ee press 
me, my precious!" 

Their farewell was grave and tender; but he left her 
without looking back. 

It was then that hunger came upon him; and making 



THE THREE PEEWITS 245 

his way to the Three Peewits, he ordered a substantial 
supper, beneath the not altogether sympathetic gaze of 
Queen Victoria. 

He remained for nearly two hours lingering over this 
meal, while at the back of his mind the ditty about 
Shaftesbury-town and Yellow Bracken mingled with the 
fragrance of the old hostelry's old wine. When at last he 
rose from the table, it occurred to him that Darnley 
Otter had mentioned on the previous day that both the 
brothers might be here this night. Led by a mysterious 
desire, just then not quite understood by himself for 
masculine society, he entered the little inner parlour of 
the Three Peewits. Here he found himself in a thick cloud 
of tobacco-smoke and a still thicker murmur of men's 
voices. The change from his erotic musings into so 
social and crude an atmosphere was more bewildering 
to his mind than he had expected. He gazed round him, 
befogged and blinking. 

But Darnley Otter rose at once to greet him, leading 
him to an aperture in the wall, where drinks were served. 
Standing there by Darnley 's side, he made polite, hurried 
bows to the different members of the company, as his 
friend mentioned their names, and while his glass was 
filled and refilled with brandy, he found his eyes turn- 
ing inevitably to the place where Jason sat sat as if he 
had been doing nothing else since he came into that 
room but wait for Wolfs arrival. The man was watch- 
ing him intently now, and without a trace of that whim- 
sical humour with which he had departed from him to 
walk round the edge of Lenty Pond. 

Wolf began at once summoning up from the recesses 



246 WOLF SOLENT 

of his own nature all the psychic power he could bring 
to bear, to cope with this new situation. As he chatted 
at that little counter with Darnlcy, in the midst of a 
rambling, incoherent flow of talk from all parts of the 
room, he deliberately drank glass after glass of brandy, 
amused at the nervousness with which Darnley observed 
this proceeding, and growing more and more determined 
to fathom the mystery of that self-lacerated being on the 
other side of the room. 

It seemed to him now that Jason's head, as he saw it 
across that smoke-filled space, resembled that of some 
lost spirit in Dante's Inferno, swirling up out of the pit 
and crying, "Help! Help! Help!" It was curious to 
himself how ready he felt just then to respond to that 
cry. "I must have drunk up this new strength from pos- 
sessing Gerda," he thought to himself. 

Darnley's trim beard continued to wag with gentle- 
manly urbanity, as he laughed and jested with various 
people in different parts of the room, but Wolf could see 
that he was growing more and more nervous about his 
brother. Nor was this nervousness without justification. 
Jason had turned his face to his neighbour, who was a 
grim farmer from Nevilton, and was uttering words that 
evidently seemed to startle the man, if not to shock him; 
for his face grew grimmer than ever, and he kept shift- 
ing his chair a little further away. 

Things were at this pass when the door opened with 
a violent swing, and there came in together Mr. Torp, 
Mr. T. E. Valley, and a tall handsome browbeating indi- 
vidual, who was presently introduced to Wolf as Mr. 
Manley of Willum's Mill. 



THE THREE PEEWITS 247 

The vicar of King's Barton seemed to have been drink- 
ing already; for he staggered straight up to the counter, 
pulling the plump stone-cutter unceremoniously after 
him by the lapel of his coat. The heavy-jowled Mr. Man- 
Icy moved across the room and seated himself by the 
side of the farmer from Nevilton, whom he addressed 
loudly and familiarly as Josh Beard. Wolf noticed that 
Mr. Beard, in a very sour and malicious manner, began 
at once repeating to this newcomer whatever it had been 
that Jason Otter had just said to him; while Mr. Manley 
of Willum's Mill proceeded with equal promptness to 
cast looks of jocose and jeering brutality at the unfortu- 
nate poet. 

"My friend Mr. Torp was in the bar-room; so I brought 
him in," said T. E. Valley, shaking hands with Wolf as if 
he had not seen him for years. 

" Tis no impertinence, I hope, for I to come in," said 
the stone-cutter, humbly; and it struck Wolf's mind as a 
kind of mad dream not a nightmare, but just one of 
those dreams where men and houses and animals and 
trees are all involved and interchanged that this gro- 
tesque figure of a man should be the father of Gerda! 

"Mr. Torp and I are old friends," said Wolf, with cor- 
dial emphasis, "and I can't tell you how glad I am to 
see you again, Vicar! Will you let me order you some- 
thing? The brandy here seems to me uncommonly 
good." 

In answer to Wolf's appeal, the barmaid, whose per- 
sonality, as she appeared and disappeared at that square 
orifice, grew more $nd more dreamlike, brought three 
large glasses of the drink he demanded, two of which he 



248 WOLF SOLENT 

promptly handed to Valley and Torp, while the third 
he appropriated for himself. 

" Tis wondrous," remarked Mr. Torp, receiving his 
glass with unsteady hand; " 'tis wondrous for a man what 
works with chisel and hammer all day, to sit and see 
what folks be like who never do a stroke. I hain't one o' 
they myself who do blame the gentry. What I do say be 
this, and I don't care who hears it. I do say that a man 
be a man while he lives; and a gent be a gent while he 
lives. Burn me if that ain't the truth." 

"But when we're dead, Mr. Torp," called out the voice 
of Jason from the further end of the room, "what are we 
when we're dead?" 

"Evenin', Mr. Otter, evenin' to 'ee, Sir! Dead, say 'ee? 
I be the man to answer that conundrum. Us be as our 
tombstones be! Them as has 'Torp' writ on 'um in clean, 
good marble, be with the Lord. They others be with 
wold Horny." 

Several mellow guffaws greeted this speech, for Gerda's 
parent was evidently a privileged jester among them; but 
to the dismay of his brother, who was now talking in a 
quiet whisper to Wolf, the hollow voice of Jason floated 
once more across the room. 

"Ask that drunk priest over there why he took young 
Redfern from a good job and turned him into a pious 
zany." 

There was a vibration in his tone that at once quieted 
the general clatter of tongues, and everyone looked at Mr. 
Valley. 

"I don't . . . quite . . . understand your . . . ques- 
tion . . . Mr, Otter," stammered the little man. 



THE THREE PEEWITS 249 

The bull-like voice of Mr. Manley of Willum's Mill 
broke in then. 

"His reverence may be hard of hearing. Shall / do the 
asking of him?" And the great bully-boy hesitated not 
to roar out in thundering tones: "Mister Otter here be 
asking of 'ee, and this whole company be- waiting to know 
from 'ee, what god-darned trick you played on young 
Redfern afore he died." 

"I must beg you, Mr. Manley," said Darnley Otter, 
whose face, as Wolf watched it, had become stiff as a 
mask, "I must beg you not to make a scene tonight." 

"I am still quite . . . quite ... at a loss ... a loss 
to understand," began the agitated clergyman, moving 
forward a step or two towards his aggressor. 

But Mr. Torp interrupted him. "Ask thee bloody ques- 
tions of thee wone bloody millpond and don't lift up 
thee's roaring voice among thee's betters!" 

There was a considerable hum of applause among the 
company at this; for Mr. Manley of Willum's Mill was 
universally disliked. 

But the farmer took no heed of this manifestation of 
public opinion. 

"Do 'ee hear what Jack Torp be saying?" he jeered, 
stretching out his long legs and emptying his glass of 
gin-and-bitters. "He's sick as Satan wi' I; and I'll tell 
'ee the cause for't." 

There was a general stir in the room and a craning 
forward of necks. The seasoned cronies of the Three Pee- 
wits had long ago discovered that the most delectable of 
all social delights was a quarrel that just stopped short 
of physical violence. 



250 WOLF SOLENT 

"The cause for't be," went on the master of Willum's 
Mill, "that I ordered me mother's grave proper-like from 
Weymouth, 'stead of ferretting round his dog-gone yard, 
where there hain't naught but litter and rubbish and pau- 
pers' monuments." 

Having thrown out this challenge, the farmer drew in 
his legs, placed his great hands upon his knees, and 
leaned forward. There was a dead silence in that ale- 
embrowned atmosphere, as if the "private bar" itself, the 
very walls of which must have been yellow with old lei- 
surely disputes, were aware of something exceptional in 
that spurt of human venom. 

Mr. Torp gave a quick sideways glance to see how the 
"gentry" were behaving. But Wolf was discreetly occu- 
pied in ordering more drinks he had already had to tell 
the barmaid to "put down" what he ordered, for his 
pockets were empty and Darnley was merely pulling at 
his beard and keeping his eye on the Vicar. 

"Thee's mother's stone!" snorted the monument-maker, 
with resonant contempt. " 'Twere ready and beauteous, 
gents all, 'twere ready and beauteous, thik stone! All 
what passed down street did stop for to see 'un, and did 
say to theyselves, Thik fine stone be loo good for a 
farmer's old woman! Thik fine stone be a titled lady's 
stone!'" 

The farmer's gin-dazed wits could only reply to this 
by a repeated, " 'Twere a pauper's throw-away; 'twere a 
workhouse six-foot and nothing!" 

Mr. Torp's voice rose higher still. "This Manley here 
were afeared to leave his mother in ground for a day 
without a stone on her. He were afeared the poor woman 



THE THREE PEEWITS 251 

would come out on's grave to tell tales on him, the old 
goat-sucker! So while thik fine stone were lying in yard 
getting weathered-like, as is good for they foreign mar- 
bles, this girt vool of a nag's head what must 'a do but 
drive hay-wagon to Chesil, and bring whoam a silly 
block o' Portland, same as they fish-folk do cover their 
bones wi', what have never seed a bit o' marble!" 

Under the impact of this eloquent indictment, which 
excited immense hilarity throughout all the company, Mr. 
Manley rose unsteadily to his feet and moved towards his 
enemy. But Mr. Torp, ensconced between Darnley Otter 
and T. E. Valley, awaited his approach unmoved. 

To the surprise of all, the big bully skirted this little 
group, and, joining Wolf at the liquor-stained counter, 
bellowed harmlessly for more gin. 

It was at this point in the proceedings that more seri- 
ous trouble began; for Jason Otter, pointing with a 
shaky forefinger at the Reverend Valley, screamed out in 
a paroxysm of fury: 

"It's you who talk about me to Urquhart and 
Monk. . . . I've found it out now. . . . It's you who 
do it!" 

The Peewit cronies must have felt that this unexpected 
clash between two of their "gentry" rose from more 
subtle depths than those to which they were accustomed; 
for they were stricken into a silence, at this juncture, 
which was by no means a comfortable one. 

"Mr. Otter here," broke in the owner of Willum's Mill, 
"Mr. Otter here have been telling pretty little tales of 
the high doings what go on up at King's Barton. Mr. 
Otter says Squire Urquhart have sold his soul to that 



252 WOLF SOLENT 

black son-of-a-gun who works in's garden, and that 'tis 
bookseller Malakite here in Blacksod whose books do 
larn 'em their deviltries!" 

"I think . . . there ... is ... some great . . . mis- 
take ... in your ... in your mind, Mr. Manley." 

The words were uttered by T. E. Valley in such shaky 
tones that Wolf was relieved when he saw Darnley take 
the parson reassuringly by the arm. 

"Mistake?" roared the farmer. "I bain't one for to say 
what I ain't got chapter nor text for saying! My friend, 
Josh Beard here, of Nevilton, County of Somerset, be as 
good a breeder of short-horns as any in Darset; and 'a do 
say 'a have heerd such things tonight such as no man's 
lips should utter; and heerd them, too, from one as we 
all do know." And he turned round and leered at Jason 
Otter with the leer of a tipsy hangman. 

"Hold thee's tongue in thee's bullick's-head!" cried the 
indignant monument-maker. "A gent's a gent, I tell 'ee; 
and when a quiet gent, like what's with us tonight, be 
moderate wambly in's head, owing to liquor, 'tisn't for 
a girt bull-frog like thee to lift up voice." 

"Bull-frog be " grumbled the big farmer, hiding 

his inability to contend in repartee with Mr. Torp under 
an increased grossness of speech. "What do a son-of-a- 
bitch like thee know of the ways of the gentry?" 

"Malakite?" muttered the breeder of short-horns. 
"Bain't Malakite the old beggar what got into trouble 
with the police some ten years since?" 

"So 'twere," agreed the grateful tenant of Willum's 
Mill, "so 'twere, brother Beard. 'A did, as thee dost say, 
get into the devil's own trouble. 'Twere along of his gals; 



THE THREE PEEWITS 253 

so some folks said. 'A was one of they hoary wold sinners 
what Bible do tell of." 

" 'Twere even so, neighbour; 'twere even so," echoed 
Mr. Beard. "And I have heerd that old Bert Smith up at 
Ramsgard could tell a fine story about thik little job." 

Wolf's mind was too flustered with brandy just then 
to receive more than a vague shock of confused ambiguity 
from this startling hint; but the next remark of the man 
from Nevillon cleared his brains with the violence of a 
bucket of ice-cold water. 

"Bert Smith may sell his grand school-hats all he will ; 
but they do tell out our way though I know nought of 
that, seeing I were living at Stamford Orcus in them 
days that thik same poor wisp o' bedstraw dursn't call 
his own gal by his own name, whether 'a be in shop or in 
church." 

"That's God's own truth you've a-heerd, Josh Beard," 
echoed the triumphant Mr. Manley. " Tisn't safe for 
that poor man to call his own daughter daughter, in the 
light o' what folks, as knows, do report. If I didn't re- 
spect any real gentleman" and to Wolf's consternation 
the gin-bemused stare of the farmer was turned upon him- 
self "and if I weren't churchwarden and hadn't voted 
Conservative for nigh thirty years, I would show this 
here stone-chipper the kind of gallimaufry these educated 
gents will cook for theyselves, afore they're done!" 

Wolf's wits, moving now, in spite of the fumes of 
smoke and alcohol, with restored clarity, achieved a mo- 
mentous orientation of many obscure matters. He re- 
called certain complicated hints and hesitations of Selena 
Gault. He recalled the reckless and embittered gaiety 



254 WOLF SOLENT 

of his mother. With a shaky hand he finished his last 
glass and laid it down on the counter. Then he looked 
across the room at the two farmers. 

"I don't know whose feelings you are so careful of, 
Mr. Manley," he said. "But since I happen to be myself 
one of these unfortunate 'educated' people, and since Mr. 
Solent, my father, came to grief in this neighbourhood, 
I should be very glad indeed to hear anything else you 
may be anxious to tell us." 

His voice, heard now by the whole company for the 
first time, had a disquieting tone; and everyone was si- 
lent. But Jason Otter rose to his feet, and, in the midst 
of that silence and under the startled attention of all eyes 
in the room, walked with short quick steps across the 
floor till he came close up to Farmer Manley, who was 
leaning his back against the little counter and who had 
his hands in his pockets; and there he stopped, facing 
him. No one but Wolf could see the expression on his 
countenance; and there were all kinds of different ver- 
sions afterwards as to what actually happened. But what 
Wolf himself knew was that the excited man was no 
longer under the restraint of his natural timidity. 

His own intelligence was so clairvoyantly aroused at 
that moment, that he could recall later every flicker of 
the conflicting impulses that shot through him. The one 
that dominated the rest was a categorical certainty that 
some immediate drastic action was necessary. What he 
did was to take Jason by the shoulders and fling him 
backwards into an old beer-stained chair that stood un- 
occupied against the neighbouring wall. In the violence 
of this action an earthenware jug of water and Wolf 



THE THREE PEEWITS 255 

had time to notice the mellow varnish of its surface 
fell with a crash upon the floor. There was a hush now 
throughout the room, and most of the company leaned 
excitedly forward. Jason himself, huddled limply in a 
great wooden chair, turned his devastated white face and 
lamentable eyes full upon his aggressor. 

"I ... I ... I didn't mean . . ." he gasped. 

"It's all right, Solent," whispered Darnley, accepting 
a chair by Jason's side, which its owner willingly va- 
cated. "You couldn't have done anything else." 

"I don't know about that, Otter," Wolf whispered back. 
"I expect we're all a little fuddled. Sit down, won't you, 
and when he's rested we'll clear out, eh? I've had enough 
of this." 

All the patrons of the private bar were gathered now 
in little groups about the room; and before long, with 
sly inquisitive glances and many secretive nudges and 
nods, the bulk of the company drifted out, leaving the 
room nearly empty. 

"I can't . . . understand. ... I didn't see. . . . Was 
he going to bite you?" 

The words were from T. E. Valley; and Wolf was so 
astonished at the expression he used, that he answered 
with a good deal of irritation : 

"Do you bite people, Mr. Valley?" 

The priest's feelings were evidently outraged by this. 
"What do you mean?" he protested querulously. 

"I mean," began Wolf. "Oh, I don't know! But to a 
stranger down here there does seem a good deal that's 
funny about you all! You must forgive me, Mr. Valley; 
but, on my soul, you brought it on yourself. Bite? It's 



256 WOLF SOLENT 

rather an odd idea, isn't it? You did say bite, didn't 
you?" 

They were interrupted by Mr. Manley of Willum's 
Mill, who, with Mr. Joshua Beard in tow, was steering 
for the door. 

"Did you hurt the gentleman, Sir?" said Mr. Manley to 
Wolf, in the grave, cautious voice of a drunkard anxious 
to prove his sobriety. 

"You drove the gentleman into fold, seems so!" echoed 
Mr. Beard. 

In thus approaching Wolf it was inevitable that the 
two worthies should jostle the portly frame of Mr. Torp, 
who, leaning against the back of a chair, with an empty 
pewter beer-mug trailing by its handle from one of his 
plump fingers, had fallen into an interlude of peaceful 
coma. 

"Who the bloody hell be 'ee barging into?" murmured 
Mr. Torp, aroused thus suddenly to normal conscious- 
ness. 

"Paupers' moniments!" jeered the farmer. "Nought 
but paupers' moniments in's yard; and 'a can still talk 
grand and mighty!" 

The stone-cutter struggled to gather his wandering 
wits together. In his confusion the only friendly shape he 
could visualize was the form of Mr. Valley, and he 
promptly made all the use he could of that. 

"The Reverend here," he said, "can bear witness to I, 
in the face of all thee's bloody millponds and hay- 
wagons. The Reverend here do know what they words, 
'Torp, Moniment-Maker, Blacksod,' do signify. The Rev- 
erend here did see, for his own self, thik girt stone what 



THE THREE PEEWITS 257 

I did put up over first young man." He now removed his 
bewildered little pig's-eyes from Mr. Valley and fixed 
them upon Wolf. "And here be second young man who 
can bear witness to I ; and, darn it, thee'd best do as I do 
say, Mr. Redfern Number Two, for thee's been clipping 
and cuddling our Gerda, 'sknow, and I be only to tell 
Missus on 'ee, and fat be in fire." 

Had not the whole scene become to him by this time 
incredibly phantasmal, such an unexpected introduction 
of Gerda's name, on this night of all nights, might have 
struck a villainous blow at his life-illusion. As it was, 
however, he could only wonder at the perspicacity of 
drunken fathers, and pull himself together for an ade- 
quate retort. 

"My name is Solent, my good sir, as you ought to 
know," he said. And then he turned to the two farmers, 
who were nudging each other and leering at him like a 
couple of schoolboy bullies. "Mr. Torp and I are the 
best of friends," he remarked sternly. 

"Friend of Torp," chuckled Mr. Manley. 

"Torp's friend," echoed Mr. Beard. 

"Thee'd best keep thee's daughter in house, Jack!" 
continued Mr. Manley. "Lest t'other one rumple her, 
same as first one did," concluded Mr. Beard. 

Wolf, beyond his conscious intention, clenched the fin- 
gers of his right hand savagely; but his wits were clear 
now, and he mastered the impulse. "Whatever happens, I 
mustn't make an ass of myself tonight," he thought. 

"You'd better go out into the air, gentlemen," he said 
quietly, "and cool your heads, or you'll get into trouble. 
Come, Mr. Torp. You and I must have a last glass to- 



258 WOLF SOLENT 

gether; and you, too, Vicar." And he led them away 
towards the little counter. 

The farmers moved slowly toward the door. 

"Redfern Number Two, 'a called un," Wolf heard 
Mr. Beard saying. "Now what be the meaning o' that, 
me boy?" He couldn't hear the big farmer's answer; but 
whatever it was, it ended in a sort of bawdy rhyme, of 
which all he could catch was the chanted refrain, "Jim- 
mie Redfern, he were there!" And with that the door 
swung behind them. 

He had just time to obtain three more drinks from the 
barmaid before she pulled down the little wooden slide 
and indicated in no equivocal manner that eleven o'clock 
had struck. 

Simultaneously with this a serving-boy entered and be- 
gan to turn down the lights. "We ought to be starting for 
home," said Darnley Otter, from where he sat by his 
brother, whose great melancholy eyes were fixed upon 
vacancy. "And it's none too soon, either!" 

"I'll be getting home-along me own self, now this here 
lad be meddling with they lights'," remarked Mr. Torp, 
emptying his glass. "Good-night to 'ee all," he added, 
taking down his coat and hat from a peg; "and if I've 
exceeded in speech to any gent here" and he glanced 
anxiously at Wolf and Mr. Valley "it be contrary to me 
nature and contrary to me profession." 

"I ... suppose . . . you won't mind . . ." mur- 
mured the voice of T. E. Valley, who had remained at the 
counter, sipping the drink, to which Wolf had treated 
him, as if it were the first he had tasted that night, "if I 
come with you? I don't want to get on anybody's nerves" 



THE THREE PEEWITS 259 

and he looked at Jason Otter, who without being asleep 
seemed to have drifted off into another world "but I 
don't like that walk alone at night." 

"Of course you must come with us, Valley," said Darn- 
ley. "Though what you can find so frightening in that 
quiet lane I can't imagine." Saying this he pulled his 
brother up upon his feet and helped him into his over- 
coat. 

Half-an-hour later they were all four making their 
way past the last houses of Blacksod. Darnley and Jason 
were walking in front; Wolf and T. E. Valley about six 
paces to the rear. They were all silent, as if the contrast 
between the noisy scene they had just left and the hushed 
quietness of the way were a rebuke to their souls. 

In one of the smaller houses, where for some reason 
neither curtain nor blind had been drawn, Wolf could 
see two candles burning on a small table at which some- 
one was still reading. 

He touched Mr. Valley's arm, and both the men stood 
for a time looking at that unconscious reader. It was an 
elderly woman who read there by those two candles, her 
chin propped upon one arm and the other arm lying ex- 
tended across the table. The woman's face had nothing 
remarkable about it. The book she read was obviously, 
from its shape and appearance, a cheap story; but as 
Wolf stared in upon her, sitting there in that common- 
place room at midnight, an indescribable sense of the 
drama of human life passed through him. For leagues 
and leagues in every direction the great pastoral fields 
lay quiet in their muffled dew-drenched aloofness. But 
there, by those two pointed flames, one isolated conscious- 



260 WOLF SOLENT 

ness kept up the old familiar interest, in love, in birth, 
in death, all the turbulent chances of mortal events. That 
simple, pallid, spectacled head became for him at that 
moment a little island of warm human awareness in the 
midst of the vast non-human night. 

He thought to himself how, in some future time, when 
these formidable scientific inventions would have changed 
the face of the earth, some wayward philosopher like 
himself would still perhaps watch through a window a 
human head reading by candlelight, and find such a 
sight touching beyond words. Mentally he resolved once 
more, while to Mr. Valley's surprise he still lingered, 
staring in at that candle-lit window, that while he lived 
he would never allow the beauty of things of this sort 
to be overpowered for him by anything that science 
could do. 

He submitted at last to his companion's uneasiness and 
walked on. But in his heart he thought: "That old woman 
in there might be reading a story about my own life! 
She might be reading about Shaftesbury-town and yellow 
bracken and Gerda's whistling! She might be reading 
about Christie and the Malakite book-shop. She might be 

reading about Mattie " His thoughts veered suddenly. 

"Mattie? Mattie Smith?" And a wavering suspicion that 
had been gathering weight for some while in his mind 
suddenly took to itself an irrefutable shape. "Lorna and 
my father. . . . The little girl said we were alike. . . . 
That's what it is!" 

He did not formulate the word "sister" in any portion 
of his consciousness where ideas express themselves in 
words, but across some shadowy mental landscape 



THE THREE PEEWITS 261 

within him floated and drifted that heavy-faced girl with 
a new and richly-charged identity! All the vague frag- 
ments of association that had gathered here and there 
in his life around the word "sister," hastened now to 
attach themselves to the personality of Mattie Smith 
and to give it their peculiar glamour. 

"How unreal my life seems to be growing," he thought. 
"London seemed fantastic to me when I lived there, like 
a tissue of filmy threads; but . . . good Lord! . . . 
compared with this! It would be curious if that old 
woman reading that book were really reading my history 
and has now perhaps come to my death. Well, as long as 
old women like that read books by candlelight there'll 
be some romance left!" 

His mind withdrew into itself with a jerk at this 
point, trying to push away a certain image of things that 
rose discomfortably upon him the image of a country- 
side covered from sea to sea by illuminated stations for 
airships, overspread from sea to sea by thousands of 
humming aeroplanes! 

What would ever become of Tilly- Valley's religion in 
that world, with head-lights flashing along cemented 
highways, and all existence dominated by electricity? 
What would become of old women reading by candle- 
light? What would become of his own life-illusion, his 
secret "mythology," in such a world? 

Stubbornly he pushed this vision away. "I'll live in my 
own world to the end," he said to himself. "Nothing shall 
make me yield." 

And while a gasping susurration at his side indicated 
that he was, in his excitement, walking too fast for Mr. 



262 WOLF SOLENT 

Valley, he discovered that that grey feather of Christie's 
which served her as a marker in the "Urn Burial" had 
risen up again in his mind. 

And as he walked along, adapting his steps to his 
companion's shambling progress, he indulged in the 
fancy that his soul was like a vast cloudy serpent of 
writhing vapour that had the power of over-reaching 
every kind of human invention. "All inventions," he 
thought, "come from man's brains. And man's soul can 
escape from them and even while using them treat them 
with contempt treat them as if they were not! It can 
slip through them like a snake, float over them like a 
mist, burrow under them like a mole!" 

He swung his stick excitedly in the darkness, while 
he gave his arm to Mr. Valley to help him along. He 
felt as though he were entering upon some desperate, in- 
visible struggle to safeguard everything that was sacred 
to him against modern inventions. "It's queer," he 
thought to himself, "what the sight of that grey feather 
in the book, and that old woman with the candle, have 
done to my mind. I've made love to the limit; I've 
brawled in a tavern to the limit; and here I am, with a 
tipsy priest on my arm, thinking of nothing but defend- 
ing I don't know what against motor-cars and aero- 
planes!" 

He continued vaguely to puzzle himself, as they 
lurched forward in the darkness, as to what it was in his 
nature that made his seduction of Gerda, his encounter 
with Jason, his discovery of Mattie, thus fall away from 
his consciousness in comparison with that feather and 
that candle; and he came finally to the conclusion, be- 



THE THREE PEEWITS 263 

fore they reached King's Barton, that there must be 
something queer and inhuman in him. "But there it is," 
he finally concluded. "If I'm like that ... I am like 
that! We must see what comes of it!" 



THE HORSE-FAIR 



1 HE FIRST PERSON OF THEIR ACQUAINTANCE THEY EN- 

countered, when Wolf and Mrs. Solent mingled with the 
lively crowd that filled Ramsgard's famous Castle Field 
that afternoon, was none other than Mr. Albert Smith. 
Wolf was amazed at the cordiality of his mother's greet- 
ing; and so quite evidently was the worthy hatter him- 
self. 

Mrs. Solent was fashionably dressed; but what struck 
her son more than her clothes at that moment was the in- 
credible power of her haughty profile, as she flung out 
her light badinage, like so many shining javelins, at the 
nervous tradesman. 

The thought rushed across his brain, as he watched 
her: "She's never had her chance in life! She was made 
for large transactions and stirring events!" Letting his 
gaze wander over the groups about them, Wolf caught 
sight of Mr. Urquhart's figure in the distance; and he 
decided that, since sooner or later he would have to greet 
the man, the best thing he could do was to get it over 
as soon as possible, so as to be prepared to face his 
Blacksod friends free of responsibility. 

Leaving his companions to themselves, therefore, with 
a nod at his mother, he plunged into the heart of that 
motley scene. The day obviously was the culmination of 
the Wessex Fair. The large expanse of meadow-land ly- 
ing between the castle-ruins and the railway was en- 
circled by booths, stalls, roundabouts, fortune-tellers' 



THE HORSE-FAIR 265 

tents, toy circuses all the entertainments, in fact, which 
the annual horde of migratory peddlers of amusement 
offered, according to age-old tradition, to their rustic 
clients. 

But the centre portion of this spacious fair-ground was 
carefully roped off; and it was here that the riding and 
driving competitions took place that gave so special 
an interest to this particular afternoon. 

One segment of this roped-off circle had been con- 
verted into a sort of privileged paddock, corresponding 
to a race-course grand-stand, where the aristocracy of the 
neighbourhood, whose carriages were drawn up under 
the railway-bank, could watch the proceedings in un- 
disturbed security. 

The opportunity Wolf had seized of approaching Mr. 
Urquhart was given him by the fact that the Squire of 
King's Barton was standing alone, close to the rope, at 
some little distance from the privileged spot where most 
of his compeers were gathered. 

He was watching with absorbed interest a stately 
parade of prize-stallions, who, adorned with ribbons and 
other marks of distinction, ambled ponderously by, one 
after another, as if they were parading in some gigantic 
super-equine festival that ought to have had super-human 
spectators! The creatures looked so powerful and so 
contemptuous beside the stablemen who led them, that 
Wolf, as he approached this procession, saw for a mo- 
ment the whole human race in an inferior and ignomini- 
ous light saw them as some breed of diabolically clever 
monkeys, who, by a debased trick of cunning, had been 
able to reduce to servitude, though not to servility, ani- 



266 WOLF SOLENT 

mals far nobler and more godlike than themselves. 

"It makes you feel like a Yahoo, Sir," said Wolf, as 
he shook hands with Mr. Urquhart. "I mean it makes me 
feel like a Yahoo. Good Lord! Look at that beast! Don't 
you get the sensation that those hooves are really making 
the earth tremble?" 

But Mr. Urquhart, though he had grasped his secre- 
tary's hand warmly and had seemed pleased to see him, 
took no more notice of this remark than if it had been 
some negligible banality uttered by a complete stranger. 
Wolf, standing by his side, said no more till the pro- 
cession had passed. His attention began to wander from 
the great stallions to a mental consideration that made 
him straighten his own shoulders. 

He had suddenly become aware of the felicitous ap- 
propriateness of Mr. Urquhart's clothes; and although 
his own overcoat was a good one and his cloth-hat new, 
he felt somehow badly dressed in the man's company, a 
feeling that caused him considerable annoyance. 

"Damn this accursed snobbishness!" he said to himself, 
as he contemplated the vast grey flanks of the winner 
of the third prize. "Why can't I detach myself absolutely 
from these things and see them as a visitor from Saturn 
or Uranus would see them?" 

Mr. Urquhart turned to him when the last stallion 
had passed by. "Do 'ee know who my man brought with 
him over here?" he said, smiling. 

Wolf could only lift his thick eyebrows interrogatively. 
He continued to feel uncomfortable under his employer's 
quizzical gaze. "He looks me up and down," he thought 



THE HORSE-FAIR 267 

to himself, "as if I were a horse that had disappointed 
him by not winning even a third prize." 

"You mean Monk?" he said. "I can't guess whom he 
brought with him. I thought he was driving you." 

"He put her on the box by his side," went on the 
squire. "It was that old servant of our good Otters. I 
was compelled to look at the flowers in her bonnet and 
the tassels on her cape all the way here." 

"You don't mean Dimity Stone?" murmured Wolf; 
and he contemplated in a rapid inward vision that sly, 
misogynistic eye fixed sardonically on the old woman's 
wizened back, and the chivalrous grand air with which 
the coachman must have conversed with her, as he held 
the reins. 

"I couldn't let her walk," went on the squire. "And 
the Otters had left her behind. I suppose they hadn't 
room. They came in a wretched conveyance. I suppose 
they got it from the hotel." He swung about and surveyed 
the crowd with indulgent arrogance. "I can just see the 
good Darnley from here," he said. "There! can't you? 
I wonder where that terrible person who's always drunk 
has hidden himself! I saw him, too, a moment ago. And, 
by gad, there's Tilly-Valley! Let's go and stir him up. 
He won't expect me to speak to him. You watch his face, 
my boy, when I nudge his elbow. Eh? What? Come on." 
And greatly to Wolf's annoyance he found himself com- 
pelled to support his limping employer on his arm, 
while the two of them pushed their way towards the 
clergyman. 

"Tally ho! Run to earth!" was the squire's greeting, 



268 WOLF SOLENT 

as, with Wolf at his elbow, he came up unobserved to 
where the little priest was standing. "Afternoon, Valley! 
Should have thought this sort of thing wasn't in your 
line; eh? what? Too many horsey rascals about? Too 
many rowdy young men, eh?" 

If Wolf was astonished at Mr. Urquhart's familiar tone, 
he was still more astonished at the expression on the 
face of the nervous clergyman. 

Stammeringly Mr. Valley found his tongue. 

"Fine horses . . . more of them than usual . . . did 
you see that grey one? . . . the Otters are here . . . 
they drove over ... I walked ... so did others . . . 
many others ... it would be nice if there were seats 
here . . . don't you think so? ... seats?" 

Wolf could hardly bear to listen to these broken ut- 
terances of the poor Vicar. There was something about 
his pinched face, his shapeless nose, his thin neck, his 
frightened eyes, that produced a profoundly pitiful feel- 
ing. This sensation was accentuated by the way a certain 
vein in the man's throat stood out. Not only did it stand 
out, it pulsed and vibrated. All the panic that Mr. 
Urquhart's presence provoked seemed concentrated in 
that pulsing vein. 

"Seats, did you say?" chuckled the squire. "You don't 
need a seat at your age." And leaning heavily on his 
companion's arm, he tapped the priest with the end of 
his stick with an air of playful familiarity. 

It came over Wolf then, with a rush of sheer rage, 
that he must get his employer away from this man at all 
costs. Never had he liked Mr. Urquhart less. There was 
something in his wrinkled white face, at that moment, 



THE HORSE-FAIR 269 

which suggested an out-rush of incredible evil of evil 
emerging, like some abominable vapour, from a level 
of consciousness not often revealed. 

Wolf was tolerant enough of the various forms of 
normal and abnormal sensuality; but what at that instant 
he got a glimpse of, beneath this man's gentlemanly 
mask, was something different from viciousness. It was as 
if some abysmal ooze from the slime of that which under- 
lies all evil had been projected to the surface. 

"Come along, Sir. We must get back to the rope," 
Wolf found himself saying in a stern, dry voice. "They're 
starting the driving-match and I can't let you miss that!" 

Mr. Urquhart's hilarity seemed to sink fathom-deep 
at the sound of his secretary's voice. He permitted himself 
to be pulled away. But Wolf noticed a perceptible in- 
crease in his lameness as he drew him along; and glanc- 
ing sideways at his face, he was startled by the look of 
almost imbecile vacuity that had replaced what had been 
there before. 

The crowd had thickened perceptibly now; and Wolf 
realized that he was seeing the most characteristic gather- 
ing for that portion of the countryside that he was ever 
likely to see. Here were smart, self-satisfied young trades- 
men from Ramsgard with their wives and their girls. 
Here were weather-stained carters from Blackmore; cider- 
makers and cattle-dealers from Sedgemoor; stalwart 
melancholy-looking shepherds from the high Quantocks; 
a sprinkling of well-to-do farmers from the far-off valley 
of the Frome; sly, whimsical dairymen from the rich 
pastures of the Stour ; and, moving among them all, slow- 
voiced and slow-footed, but with an infinite zest for 



270 WOLF SOLENT 

enjoyment, the local rustic labourers that tilled the heavy 
fields watered by the Lunt. 

The two men pushed their way back to the taut vibrat- 
ing rope, beyond which the driving-contest was now pro- 
ceeding; and as they rested there, Wolf's mind felt 
liberated from all its agitations, and he drank in the scene 
before him with unruffled delight. The peculiar smells 
lhat came to his nostrils leather, and straw, and horse- 
dung, and tobacco-smoke, and cider-sour human breath, 
and paint, and tar, and half-devoured apples were all 
caught up and overpowered by one grand dominant 
odour, the unique smell of the trodden grass of a fair- 
field. Let the sun shine as it would from the cold blue 
heaven! Let the chariots of white clouds race as they 
pleased under that airy tent! It was from the solid ground 
under human feet, under equine hooves, that this Dor- 
setshire world gave forth its autochthonous essence, its 
bitter-sweet, rank, harsh, terrestrial sweat, comforting 
beyond conscious knowledge to the heart of man and 
beast. 

Nothing could have been more symbolic of the inmost 
nature of that countryside than the humorous gravity 
with which these lean yeomen and plump farmers drove 
their brightly painted gigs and high dog-carts round that 
hoof-trodden paddock! The obvious reciprocity between 
the men who drove and the animals driven, the magnetic 
currents of sympathy between the persons looking on and 
the persons showing off, the way the whole scene was 
characterized by something casual, non-official, noncha- 
lant all this produced an effect that only England, and 
perhaps only that portion of England, could have brought 



THE HORSE-FAIR 271 

into being. Behind Wolf and his companion surged a 
pushing, jostling, heterogeneous crowd, giving vent to a 
low, monotonous murmur; and behind them again could 
be heard the raucous cries and clangings and whistlings 
from the noisy whirligigs. 

Wolf could make out, here and there among the people 
round him, the well-known straw-hats manufactured by 
Mr. Albert Smith of the boys of Ramsgard School. 
"They must be having a 'half today," he thought; and 
his mind ran upon the various queer, unathletic, un- 
popular boys among the rest, who must be feeling, just 
then, so indescribably thankful for this blessed interlude 
in their hateful life! The thought of the unknown, undis- 
covered bullies that probably existed in Ramsgard School 
at that very moment made him feel sick at the pit of his 
stomach. "I put my curse on them," he thought. "If I 
have a vestige of occult power I put my curse upon 
them!" 

A short, stocky man, with powerful wrists, driving a 
lively but not particularly handsome horse, passed them 
at that moment inside the paddock. Wolf was wondering 
why the voices round him were discreetly lowered as this 
person trotted by, when he noted that the man exchanged 
a familiar nod with Mr. Urquhart. 

"Not a bad turnout for a Lovelace," muttered this latter, 
when the equipage had passed; "but they never can quite 
do it!" 

Once again Wolf felt a prick of shame at the curious 
interest which this occurrence excited in him. What was 
Lord Lovelace to him? He glanced furtively at the squire 
of King's Barton. The man's baggy eye-wrinkles had, just 



272 WOLP SOLENT 

then, a look that was almost saurian. From one corner 
of his twitching mouth a trickle of saliva descended, 
towards which a small fly persistently darted. . . . 

Wolf turned away his eyes. The magic of the scene had 
completely vanished. The smell of the trodden earth was 
stale in his nostrils. A loathing of the whole spectacle 
of life took 'possession of him. And under his breath he 
repeated that strange classical lament, a tag in his memory 
from his school-days, a mere catchword now; but it 
gave him a certain relief to pronounce the queer-sounding 
syllables. 

"Ailinon! Ailinon!" he muttered to himself, as he 
leaned his stomach against that vibrant rope. "Ailinon! 
Ailinon!" And the very utterance of this tragic cry from 
the old Greek dramas soothed his mind as if it had been 
a talisman. But the disgust he felt at the pressure of 
things at that moment extended itself to this whole fair- 
ground, extended itself even to the prospect of seeing 
Gerda again. "How can I face her in the midst of all 
this?" he thought; and he recalled the outline of his 
mother's profile, so contemptuously lifted towards Albert 
Smith. "What will she think of the Torp family?" he 
said to himself, in miserable discomfort. 

Struggling against this wretched mood, he straightened 
his back and clutched the rope with both his hands. 
Savagely he tried to summon up out of the depths of 
his spirit some current of defiant magnetism. But the 
presence of Mr. Urquhart, taciturn and pensive though 
the squire had become, seemed to cut off all help from 
these furtive resources. 

So he sought to steady himself by pure reason. 



THE HORSE-FAIR 273 

"After all," he argued, "those gulfs of watery blue 
up there are such an unthinkable background to all this, 
that they . . . that they ... a trickle of saliva more 
or less ... a woman's profile more or less . . ." And 
then, as he watched those painted gigs come swinging 
once more round the enclosure, and heard the exclama- 
tions of malicious delight, as a chestnut-coloured mare 
showed a vicious tendency to back her driver against 
the rope, a sense of terrified loneliness came upon him. 
What could Gerda, or his mother, or anyone else man 
or woman really feel toward him so that this loneliness 
should be eased? Emptiness leered at him, emptiness 
yawned at him, out of that watery blue; and what pointed 
spikes of misunderstanding he had to throw himself upon 
before this bustling day was over! 

He ran his fingers along the swaying rope, sticky from 
the innumerable human hands that had clutched it. His 
mind seemed to hover above the form of Gerda and above 
the form of his mother, as if it had been a floating mist 
gathered about two sundered headlands. That familiar 
grey head, with those mocking brown eyes, and this other, 
this new strange head, with its sea-grey gaze and its 
wild, pursed-up, whistling mouth what would happen 
when he brought them together? 

It would mean he would have to leave his mother. 
That's what it would mean. Where was Gerda now, in 
this confused medley? She must be somewhere about; 
and perhaps Christie, too! 

"You won't care if I go off to look for my mother, 
Sir?" he found himself saying. And the words quite 
startled him, as if he had spoken in his sleep ; for he had 



274 WOLF SOLENT 

made up his mind that he would never speak of his 
private affairs to this egoistic gentleman. 

"Eh? What's that? Tired of the old man, ha? Want 
to gad after the petticoats? Well! Take me to the en- 
closure, out of this crowd, and I'll let you go. I suppose 
it's hopeless to find Monk in this hurly? He was to have 
come back for me. But Lord! he's got his own little 
affairs, as well as another. There! That's better. You 
needn't go at a snail's pace for me. There! That's all 
right. I'll find Lovelace in the enclosure, I daresay. 
He'll wait to see the cart-horses." 

Wolf steered the squire as well as he could through 
the jostling mob of people, and left him at the entrance 
to the privileged circle. 

"You and I know more about some of these good folks 
than they know themselves," remarked Mr. Urquhart, 
grimly. "Our History'll make 'em sit up a bit; eh? 
what? Well, off with 'ee, me boy; and if you want to find 
your mother, I'd look for her in the refreshment-tent, if I 
were you. Never know'd but one woman who could see a 
horse-show out to the end and she was a tart of Lord 
Tintinhull's. 'Sack' they used to call her; and 'sacked' 
she was, at the finish, poor bitch! Well, good luck to 'ee. 
We'll do some solid work tomorrow, please God!" 

Wolf mumbled some inadequate reply to this and 
strode away. What struck him just then was the contrast 
between the silky tone of his employer's voice and the 
toll-pike jocularity of his language. "Neither tone nor 
words are the real man," he thought. "What seething 
malice, what fermenting misanthropy, that mask of his 
does cover!" 



THE HORSE-FAIR 275 

Crossing the fair-field to the northward, leaving the 
paddock to his left and the whirligigs to his right, Wolf 
speedily found his way to the entrance of the great re- 
freshment-tent. 

The place was packed with people, some taking their 
stimulant at little deal-board tables, others eating and 
drinking as they stood, others again crowding about the 
massive serving-counter at the end of the tent, where 
great silvery receptacles, kept hot by oil-flames, were 
disgorging into earthenware cups a quality of tea that 
seemed to meet the taste alike of the Lovelaces and of 
the Torps, so varied were the human types now eagerly 
swallowing it! 

Wolf speedily became aware that Mr. Urquhart's jibe 
about few petticoats being able to endure a horse-show 
to the end was not without justification. About three- 
quarters of the persons filling this huge canvas-space 
were women. 

The first familiar form he encountered as he pushed 
his way in was that of Selena Gault. This lady was seated 
alone at a small table placed against the canvas-wall, 
where she was drinking her tea and eating her bread-and- 
butter in sublime indifference to the crowd that surged 
about her. Wolf hurried to her, snatched an unoccupied 
chair, and sat down at her side. 

He fell, for some reason, a sense of profound physical 
exhaustion; and underneath the pleasant badinage with 
which he returned his friend's greetings he found himself 
positively clinging to this lonely woman. 

The lady's costume, to which she had given a vague 
sporting-touch suitable to the occasion, enhanced her 



276 WOLF SOLENT 

grotesque hideousness. But from her deformed visage 
her eyes gleamed such irresistible affection that his 
ebbing courage began steadily to revive. 

Their complete isolation in the midst of the crowd 
for the people jostling past their table gave them little 
heed soon led Wolf to plunge shamelessly into what was 
nearest his heart. Selena Gault's ghastly upper-lip quiv- 
ered perceptibly as he told her of his affair with Gerda 
and his resolve to get married without delay. 

"Why, she's here!" she cried. "The child's here! She 
came in with her father a quarter of an hour ago. She 
certainly is one of the loveliest girls I've ever set eyes 
upon. I hadn't seen her since she's grown up. I was 
amazed at her beauty. Well! You have made hay while 
the sun shone. No! it's no use! You can't possibly see her 
from where you are. Now turn round and look at me; 
and let's talk about all this, quietly and sensibly. It's 
as serious as it could be; and I don't know what's to be 
done about it." 

"There's nothing to be done, I'm afraid, Miss Gault," 
said Wolf gravely, forcing himself to accept the situation; 
"nothing except to make some money by hook or by 
crook! Do you think if I put the case to Urquhart, he'd 
give me a little more? We're getting on first-rate with the 
History." 

Never were human eyelids lifted more whimsically 
than were those of Wolf's interlocutor at this mild sug- 
gestion. 

"Oh, my dear boy!" she chuckled. "You don't know 
how funny you are. To ask that man for money to get 
married on." 



THE HORSE-FAIR 277 

"No good, eh?" he murmured. "No, I suppose not. 
But you don't think he'll show me the door, do you?" 

Miss Gault shook her head. "If he does, we'll put all 
our wits together and get you something in Ramsgard. 

There are jobs " she added, thoughtfully puckering 

her brows. 

But Wolf, having twice twisted his head back into its 
normal position from a hopeless attempt to see further 
than a few yards in front of him, felt an irresistible im- 
pulse to reveal to this woman certain rather sinister de- 
ductions that he found he had been involuntarily making 
from recent glimpses and hints. Composed originally of 
the veriest wisps and wefts of fluctuating suspicion, they 
seemed now to have solidified themselves in unabashed 
tangibility. What they now amounted to was that Mattie 
was not Mr. Smith's daughter at all but William Solent's; 
and that Olwen, the girl's little protegee, was actually 
the incestuous child of old Malakite, the bookseller, and 
of some vanished sister of Christie's. It was the startling 
nature of these conclusions that tempted him to fire 
them off point-blank at the lady by his side, whose mor- 
bid receptivity made her a dedicated target for such a 
shock. 

"Is it true that I have a sister in this town?" he 
enquired boldly, looking straight into Miss Gault's 
eyes. 

The appalling upper-lip vibrated like the end of a 
tapir's proboscis, and the grey eyes blinked as if he had 
shot off a pistol. 

"What?" she cried, letting her hands fall heavily upon 
her knees, like the hands of a flabbergasted sorceress, 



278 WOLF SOLENT 

palms downward and fingers outspread. 'What's that 
you're saying, boy?" 

"I am saying that I've come to a shrewd certainty," 
said Wolf firmly, "that Mattie Smith and I have the same 
father." 

Miss Gault astonished him by putting her elbows on to 
the table and covering her face with her extended fingers; 
through which her eyes now regarded him. She was not 
weeping he could see that. Was she laughing at him? 
There was something so queer in this gesture, that he felt 
an uneasy discomfort. It was as if she had suddenly 
turned into a different person, as different from the Miss 
Gault he knew, as the new Mattie they were talking about 
was different from the one he had met in that Victorian 
dining-room. 

He wished she would remove those fingers and stop 
staring at him so discomforlably. When at last she did 
so, it was to reveal a countenance whose expression he 
was at a loss to read. Her face certainly wasn't blubbered 
with crying; but it was flushed and disturbed. The im- 
pression he really got from it was of something . . . 
almost indecent! 

He glanced furtively round, and, hurriedly extending 
his arm, touched one of her wrists. 

"You must have known I'd find out sooner or later," 
he said. "It doesn't matter, my knowing, does it? He 
couldn't mind. He'd be glad, I should think." And he 
gave an awkward little chuckle, as he released her hand 
and began fumbling for a cigarette. 

He had only just succeeded in finding the small packet 



THE HORSE-FAIR 279 

for which he was searching, when he caught Miss Gault's 
eyes lit up in excited recognition. 

He swung round. Ah! there they were making their 
way straight towards them the portly figure of Mr. 
Torp, with Gerda leaning lightly on his arm! 

He did not hesitate a moment, but leaping up from his 
chair with an incoherent apology to his companion, he 
advanced to meet them, his heart beating fast, but his 
brain in full command of the situation. 

Gerda flushed crimson when she saw him, dis- 
engaged her arm from her father's, and, coming to 
meet him with charming impetuosity, held out her 
hand. 

She was dressed in plain navy-blue serge, and wore a 
dark, soft hat low down over her fair hair. This un- 
assuming attire heighlened her beauty; and the em- 
barrassed, yet illuminated look with which she greeted 
her lover, brought back to his mind so vividly the 
events of yesterday, that for a moment he was struck 
with a kind of dizziness that reduced everyone in that 
crowded tent to a floating and eddying mist. 

He caught at her hand without a word and held it 
tightly for a moment, hurting her a little. 

He soon dropped it, however, and said very hurriedly 
and quietly: "Gerda . . . forgive me ... but I want to 
introduce you to my friend, Miss Gault." 

Gerda's eyes must have already encountered those of 
that lady, for he saw her face stiffen to a conventional 
and rather strained smile. But at this moment Mr. Torp 
intervened, coming up very close to Wolf and touching 



280 WOLF SOLENT 

the latter's hand with his plump finger before he could 
lift it to greet him. 

"So you and darter have fixed it up, have 'ee?" he 
whispered, in a confidential, almost funereal tone. "Don't 
'ee be fretted about I nor the missus, Mister. Us be glad 
in advance, I tell 'ee; and so it be." He caught hold of 
Wolf's sleeve and put his face close to his face, while 
Wolf, with a sidelong glance, became aware that Miss 
Gault had approached them and had been met half-way 
by Gerda. 

" Tis they wimming's whimsies what us have got to 
mind, hasn't?" whispered Mr. Torp. "What they do 
reckon'll happen to we, 'tis what will happen to we, 
looks so! Don't 'ee take on, Mister, about us being poor 
folks like. Darter's different from we and alms has been, 
since her were a babe. She's had grand courtiers ere now, 
though I shouldn't say it. But Gerdie be a good girl, 
though turble lazy about house. Her mother once did 
think it 'ud be young Bob Weevil what 'ud get her; but 
I knewed a thing or two beyond that, I did! I knewed 
she were one for the gentry, as you might say. 'Twere 
barn in her, I reckon! I be a climbing man, me wone 
self. It's like enough she gets it from I!" And before he 
withdrew his rubicund face to a discreet distance, the 
stone-cutter gave him a shrewd wink. 

It was then that Miss Gault took the opportunity of 
bringing Gerda up to them. She had evidently said some- 
thing very gracious to the girl ; for Gerda's quaint society- 
manner had left her, and she looked pleased, though a 
little bewildered. 

"We've made friends already," said Miss Gault to 



THE HORSE-FAIR 281 

Wolf, "and I've told her I knew her well by sight. How 
do you do, Mr. Torp! I was telling Mr. Solent that I 
knew your daughter already, though I've never spoken to 
her; but she's not a young lady one can forget!" 

What Mr. Torp's reply to this was Wolf did not 
hear. Aware that the situation had arranged itself, he 
found as he kept looking at Gerda's face, as she listened 
to Miss Gault and her father, that he was beginning 
to grow nervously hostile to all these explanations. Why 
couldn't he and Gerda go sraight off now, out of this 
hurly-burly, out anywhere ... so as to be at peace and 
alone? 

"Well, good-bye," Gerda was saying. "Perhaps we'll 
see you again later; but Father and I haven't half gone 
the round yet, have we, Father?" 

"Gone the round! I should think us hadn't!" said Mr. 
Torp. "Bain't what used to be, this here fair! I do mind 
when 'twere so thick wi' gipoos and such-Iike, that a 
person could scarce move. But Gerdie and I will see 
summat, don't 'ee fear! They whirligigs . . . why there 
ain't a blessed season since her was a mommet that we 
ain't rid in they things; is there, my chuck?" 

"No, there isn't, Father. Good-bye, Miss Gault!" she 
added, with a straight, confiding, grateful glance at her 
friend's friend. "I'll be at home all tomorrow afternoon, 
Wolf," she murmured, as she smoothed out her gloves 
and buttoned her jacket. 

Mr. Torp caught the word. "So she shall be!" he 
cried emphatically. "I be a turble stern man, for order- 
ing they to do what they've set their hearts on doing! 
Well, good-bye to 'ee, Sir! Good-bye to 'ee, Marm! If 



282 WOLF SOLENT 

all and sundry here were to fling at they coceenuls, there'd 
be few left, I reckon!" 

Watching that quaintly assorted couple moving away 
out of the tent, Wolf felt a glow of almost conceited 
satisfaction in the discovery that whatever vein of snob- 
bishness it was in him that had made so much of Mr. 
Urquhart's clothes and Lord Lovelace's appearance, it 
fell away completely where Gerda was concerned. "I'm 
glad the old man is as he is!" he thought, as his eyes 
followed them into the open air. 

"Let's sit down again, shall we?" he said to Miss 
Gault. 

His spirits were a little dashed, however, when he re- 
garded the lady opposite him, as they resumed their 
seats; for her face seemed to have grown stiff and some- 
what remote. 

"This is very serious," she said gravely. And then, 
with an almost plaintive tone, "Why is it that men are 
so ridiculous?" 

"But I thought you liked her, Miss Gault! You were 
so especially sweet to her." 

She sighed and gave him a glance that seemed to say 
irritably, "And to cap everything you are an incredible 
fool!" 

"You did like her, didn't you?" 

"So childish that they think of nothing . . . nothing 
. . . when their desire is aroused." 

"Why is it so serious, Miss Gault?" he said. And then 
he added rather maliciously, "My mother would see in a 
second how refined she is!" 

Miss Gault lifted her eyebrows. "I'm not only thinking 



THE HORSE-FAIR 283 

of your mother," she said. "There's no reason, that I 
know of, why I should fuss about her. I'm thinking of 
you and the girl herself, and and of all your friends. 
Listen, boy" and she bent on him one of the most ten- 
der and reproachful looks he had ever seen "all this is 
pure madness selfish, greedy madness! You can't make 
a girl like that happy no! not for half a year! Good 

heavens, child, you're as blind as a You're as selfish 

as one of my cats! It's the girl I'm thinking of, I tell 
you. You'll make her miserable, you and your mother! 
She's sweet to look at; but Wolf, Wolf! she and you 
will talk completely different languages! You can't do 
these things not in our country, anyhow. I've seen it 
again and again these things bring misery just misery. 
And how are you going to support her, I'd like to 
know?" 

"She has indeed a different language," cried Wolf, 
irrelevantly; and his mind reverted to the blackbird of 
Poll's Camp. And then, as he saw her face droop wearily 
and her fingers tap the table: "Why did you take it all 
so nicely just now. Why did you talk of getting me work 
in Ramsgard?" 

She made no reply to this. But after a moment she 
burst out: "Your father would laugh at you ... he 
would! . . . He'd just laugh at you!" 

"Well, we'd better not talk of it any more," said Wolf 
sulkily. 

He cast about in the depths of his consciousness, how- 
ever, with the vindictiveness of defeat, for some line of 
attack that would disturb and agitate her. 

"Miss Gault," he began, while with her gaze fixed upon 



284 WOLF SOLENT 

vacancy she stared through him and past him into the in- 
terior of the great tent, "do you mind if I ask you a 
direct question? I know that Mattie Smith is my father's 
child; but what I want to ask you now is whose child 
is Olwen?" 

A faint brownish flush ran like a stream of muddy 
water beneath the surface of the skin of her face. She 
bent her head over the table; and like a great ruffled 
bird, in a cage, that has been shaken from the top, she 
began picking up and lifting to her mouth every crumb 
of bread in sight. Then, with a shaky hand, she poured 
some spilt drops of cold tea from her saucer into her 
cup. 

"What I want to know," repeated Wolf, "is why my 
sister Mattie has this child Olwen to look after. Is she 
a foundling? Is she adopted? Where did she spring 
from?" 

But the daughter of the late headmaster of Ramsgard 
School remained obstinately silent. She folded her hands 
mechanically over the heavy teacup and sat straight in 
her chair, staring into her lap like an image of Atropos. 

"Don't you want to tell me, Miss Gault? Is it some- 
thing you can't tell me?" 

Still the lady remained silent, her fingers tightly 
clenched over the cup. 

"I knew there was something queer from the start," 
he went on. "What's the matter with you all? Who is 
this child?" 

Then very slowly Miss Gault rose to her feet. 

"Come out into the air," she said brusquely. "I can't 
talk to you here." 



THE HORSE-FAIR 285 

They made their way together out of the tent; but they 
had hardly gone a stone's throw into the cold March sun- 
shine, when they encountered, without a possibility of 
retreat or evasion, Mrs. Solent and Mr. Smith advanc- 
ing resolutely and blamelessly towards the place they 
were quitting. 

The hatter of Ramsgard School looked pinched and 
withered in the hard, glaring light. Wolf received a sud- 
den, inexplicable inkling that the man was wretchedly 
miserable. The look he got from him as they approached 
seemed grey with weariness. Mrs. Solent was, however, 
talking gaily. Her brown eyes were shining with mis- 
chief. Her cheeks were flushed. And now, at the very 
moment of salutation, he could see that proud face toss 
its chin and that sturdy, well-dressed figure gather itself 
together for battle. Once more it came over him with 
a queer kind of remorse, as if he were responsible for 
it: "She's had no life at all; and she's made for great, 
stirring events!" 

But it was many days before he forgot the manner in 
which those two ancient rivals faced each other. It had, 
this encounter between them, the queer effect upon him 
of making him recall, as he had once or twice already 
in Dorsetshire, that passage in "Hamlet" where the ghost 
cries out from beneath the earth. A piece of horse-dung 
at his feet, as he instinctively looked away while the 
two came together, grew large and white and round. 

"He can't have a shred of flesh left on him down 
there," he thought to himself, with a kind of sullen an- 
ger against both the women. But what puzzled him now 
was that Miss Gault did not rise to the occasion as he 



286 WOLF SOLENT 

had supposed she would have done. To his own personal 
taste she looked more formidable in her black satin 
gown than his mother did in her finery; but it was clear 
to him, as he watched them shaking hands, that his 
mother's spirit was poised and adjusted to the nicest 
point of the encounter, whereas Miss Gault's inmost be- 
ing just then seemed disorganized, disjointed, helpless, 
unwieldy. 

That they shook hands at all, he could see, was owing 
to his mother. Miss Gaull's hands hung down at her sides, 
like the hands of a large, stuffed doll that has been set 
up with difficulty in an erect position. And they re- 
mained like this until Mrs. Solent's arm had been ex- 
tended for quite a perceptible passage of time. When 
Selena did raise her wrist and take her enemy's fingers, 
it was to retain them all the while the two were speaking. 
But Mrs. Solent told Wolf afterwards that there was no 
warmth or life in that cold pressure. . . . 

"Well, Selena, so it's really you ! And I couldn't have 
believed there'd be so little change. You are at your old 
tricks again, I see, running off with my son!" 

"I hope you are well, Ann," said Miss Gault. "You 
look as handsome as ever." 

"I'd look handsomer still, if my son wasn't so un- 
ambitious and lazy," replied the other, giving Wolf a 
glance of glowing possessiveness. 

"Men can be too ambitious, Ann," said Miss Gault 
slowly, speaking as if she were in some kind of trance. 

"We passed a really pretty girl a minute or two ago," 
cried Mrs. Solent suddenly; "and Albert here says he 
knows who she is. You ought to go over to the round- 



THE HORSE-FAIR 287 

abouts, Wolf, and try and find her! She was with a 
labouring-man of some sort, a stocky plump little man; 
but she was pretty as a picture!" 

"Do you mean that Dorset labourers sell their daugh- 
ters, Mother? Or do you mean that all beauty can be 
had for the asking? All right; I'll hunt for her through 
all the tents!" 

He felt himself speaking in such a strained, queer 
voice that he was not surprised to observe Miss Gault 
glancing nervously at Mrs. Solent to see if she had de- 
tected it. But Mrs. Solent was too excited just then to 
notice so slight a thing as a change of tone. As he spoke 
with his mother in this way about Gerda, something 
seemed to rise up in his throat that was like a serpent 
of fury. He rebelled against the look of his mother's 
face, the proud outline of her scornful profile. "I am 
glad ... I am glad . . ." he said to himself, "that 
Gerda isn't a lady, and that her father is a stone-cutter!" 

And it came over him that it was an imbecility that 
any human soul should have the power over another soul 
that his mother had over him. As he looked at her now. 
he was aware of an angry revolt at the massive resist- 
ance which her personality offered. 

It did not make it easier for him at this moment 
that he recognized clearly enough that the very strength 
in his mother which had been such security to him in 
his childhood was the thing now with which he had to 
struggle to gain his liberty that protective, maternal 
strength, the most formidable of all psychic forces! 

She was like a witch his mother on the wrong side 
in the fairy-story of life. She was on the side of fate 



288 WOLF SOLENT 

against chance, and of destiny against random fortune. 
"I don't care how she feels when I tell her about Gerda," 
he said to himself; and in a flash, looking all the while 
at his mother's dress, he thought of the yielded loveli- 
ness of Gerda's body, and he decided that he would 
shake off this resistance without the least remorse. 
"Shake it off! Pass over it; disregard it!" he said to 
himself. 

"I shall come and see you, Selena, whether you like 
it or not," his mother was now saying. "After twenty- 
five years people as old as we are ought to be sensible, 
oughtn't we, Mr. Smith?" she added. 

But Mr. Smith had managed to remove himself a pace 
or two from their company, under cover of a sudden 
interest in a torn and flapping "Western Gazette," which 
he proceeded to push into a trampled mole-hill with the 
end of his stick. 

Mrs. Solent glanced at her son shrewdly and scrutiniz- 
ingly. "You look as if you were enjoying yourself, I 
must say! What's come over you? Are you wishing your- 
self back in London? Well, come on, Albert Smith! 
I'm longing for a cup of tea. These people have had 
theirs." 

She was already carrying off her companion, after a 
nod to Miss Gault, which was received without a sign of 
response, when Wolf stopped her. "Where shall we meet, 
Mother, when you're ready to go?" 

"Oh, anywhere, child! We can't lose ourselves here." 

"Say over there, then? By the roundabouts, in about 
an hour?" 

"All right; very good! Mr. Smith shall escort me there 



THE HORSE-FA1R 289 

when we've had our tea. It's strange, Albert, isn't it, 
thai in this place of my whole married life, you're the 
only friend I've got left?" 

Wolf was aware of an expression in her brown eyes, 
a droop of her straight shoulders, that made him realize 
that there were strange emotions stirring under the sur- 
face of that airy manner. 

"The roundabouts, then!" he repeated. 

"All right in an hour or so!" she flung back. "And 
why don't you and Selena have a turn at the swings?" 
she added, as she went off. 

Her disappearance seemed to make no difference to 
Selena Gault. In absolute immobility the poor lady re- 
mained standing there, staring at the grass. It was as if 
she'd put her foot upon an adder that struck her with 
sudden paralysis, so that at a touch she would topple- 
over and fall. 

Wolf came close to her. "Don't worry about my 
mother, Miss Gault, darling," he whispered earnestly. 
"She's not as flippant as she sounds . . . really she's 
not! She's like that with everyone. She's like that with 
me." 

Miss Gault looked at him as if his words meant noth- 
ing. Her vacant stare seemed to be fixed on something 
at a remote distance. 

"I know; I quite understand," she murmured; and 
her hands, coming, as it were, slowly to life, began to 
pick at the little cloth buttons of the braided jacket she 
wore over her satin gown. The stiffness of these old- 
fashioned garments seemed to hold her up. Without 
their support it looked as if she would have fallen down 



290 WOLF SOLENT 

just where she was close to the newspaper buried 
through the nervousness of Mr. Smith! 

She seemed to Wolf, as he stood helplessly before her, 
like a classic image of outrage in grotesque modern 
clothes. "She's like an elderly lo," he thought, "driven 
mad by the gadfly of the goddess." 

"Dear Miss Gault ! Don't you worry about it any more ! 
I swear to you she isn't as malicious as she seems. You 
must remember that all this isn't as easy for her as she 
makes out. She's hard; but she can be really magnani- 
mous . . . you'll see! She doesn't realize people's feel- 
ings, that's what it is. She was the same about Gerda. 
Fancy her noticing her like that!" In his desire to soothe 
his companion he seized one of the black-gloved hands. 
As he did so he looked round nervously; for he began 
to be aware that various persons among the groups who 
passed them stopped to stare at her perturbed figure. 

But his touch brought a flood of colour to the woman's 
swarthy cheeks. She clasped his hand tightly with both 
her own, holding it for a moment before she let it fall. 

"I can't help it, boy," she said in a low tone. "Seeing 
her brings it all back." She paused for a moment. "No 
one else ever treated me as a woman," she added, her 
mouth twitching. 

Wolf wrinkled his bushy eyebrows. 

"You must let me be as fond of you as he was," he 
muttered. "You must look after me as you looked after 
him." 

She nodded and smiled a little at that, rearranged the 
great black hat upon her head, and, after a moment's 



THE HORSE-FAIR 291 

hesitation, placed her hand on his arm. "Come," she 
said, "let's go to the roundabouts." 

They moved slowly together across the field. It oc- 
curred to him now that he could distract her mind and 
at the same time satisfy his own curiosity by renewing 
their interrupted conversation. 

"I don't want to tease you with questions," he began 
presently. "But you promised you'd tell me you know? 
about Mattie and Olwen." 

"It's not easy, boy," said Miss Gault with a sigh. 

"I know it isn't. That's why I want you to tell me and 
not anyone else." 

She walked by his side in silence for a while, evidently 
collecting her thoughts. "It's the sort of thing one finds 
so difficult to tell," she said, looking guardedly round 
them. 

"Well! Let me tell you!" he retorted, "and you cor- 
rect me, if I'm wrong." 

Miss Gault nodded gravely. 

"Mattie's my father's child," he muttered in a low, 
clear voice, "and Olwen is " 

Miss Gault had managed to turn her face so far away 
from him that he couldn't see her expression. 

"Who told you all this, boy? Who told you?" she in- 
terrupted, in such a peevish tone that two solemn-faced 
members of the Sixth Form of the School, with blue 
ribbons round their straw-hats and sticks in their hands, 
glanced furtively at her as they passed. 

"Olwen's father was old Malakite," Wolf went on; 
"and Olwen's mother was Christie Malakite's sister." 



292 WOLF SOLENT 

Miss Gault still kept her face removed from his steady 
gaze. 

"Aren't I right?" he repeated. "But you needn't tell 
me. I know I am right." He paused, and they continued 
to cross the field. 

"What's become of the mother?" he continued. "Is she 
still alive?" 

Miss Gault did turn at this. 

"Australia," she whispered. 

"Alive or dead?" 

She almost shouted her reply to this, as if with a 
spasm of savage relief. 

"Dead!" she cried. 

Wolf held his peace for a moment or two, while his 
brain worked at top speed. 

"What Christie must have gone through!" he mur- 
mured audibly, but in a tone as if talking to himself 
rather than to her. "What she must have gone through!" 

Miss Gault's comment upon this was drowned by the 
brazen noise issuing from the engine of one of the 
roundabouts which they were now approaching. 

"What did you say?" he shouted in her ear. 

"I said that Christie Malakite has no heart!" cried 
Miss Gault; and her voice was almost as harsh as the 
raucous whistle that saluted them. 

He stopped at this, and they both stood motionless, 
looking at each other covertly, while a magnetic cur- 
rent of inexplicable antagonism flickered between them. 

"It wasn't her he loved!" Miss Gault shouted sud- 
denly so suddenly that Wolf moved backwards, as if 
she had lifted her hand to hit him. 



THE HORSE-FAIR 293 

"Who didn't love whom?" he vociferated in response; 
while two small boys of the Ramsgard Preparatory 
School nudged each other and peered at them inquisi- 
tively. 

"What are you staring for? Urchins!" cried Miss 
Gault. 

"All the same they're nice boys," she muttered. "Look! 
I've hurt their feelings now; and they really are very 
polite. Here, children, come here!" 

The two little boys, their heads covered with enor- 
mous and very new examples of the art of Mr. Albert 
Smith, pretended not to hear her appeal. They remained 
in fixed contemplation of a counter of glaring cakes 
and sweets. 

"Come here, you two!" repeated the lady. 

They did, at that, sheepishly turn round and begin 
moving towards her, with an air as if it were a complete 
accident that their feet carried them in that particular 
direction rather than in any other. 

"I won't hurt you," she said, as softly as she could 
in the midst of the terrific noise that whirled round 
them. "What are your names, my dears?" 

"Stepney Major," murmured one of the little 
boys. 

"Trelawney Minor," gasped the other. 

"Well, Stepney Major and Trelawney Minor, here's 
half-a-crown for you. Only, when you next meet queer- 
looking people at the Fair, don't stare at them as if 
they were part of the Show." 

When the two little boys had decamped, radiantly 
reverential, Miss Gault turned to Wolf. 



294 WOLF SOLENT 

"Didn't they take off their hats prettily? They do bring 
'em up well. Little gentlemen they are!" 

She seemed glad of the interruption. But Wolf began 
speaking again. 

"What's that, boy?" she rejoined. "Terrible, this 
noise! Isn't it?" 

"Miss Gault!" 

"You needn't shout, Wolf. I can hear you. There . . . 
like that . . . that's better!" And she shifted her posi- 
tion. 

"Who didn't love whom? We were talking of the Mala- 
kites." 

"My dear boy" and, as she spoke, a smile of the 
most complicated humour came into her strange coun- 
tenance, transforming it into something almost beautiful 
"my dear boy, I wasn't talking of the Malakites! I 
was talking of your father and Lorna Smith." 

"Mattie's mother, eh? But why did you say oh, damn 
that noise! that Christie had no heart?" 

Miss Gault stared at him. 

"Haven't you seen her? Didn't you see what she was? 
Reading the books of that old wretch, keeping house for 
that old wretch? How can she look the man in the face, 
I should like to know? They tell me Olwen can't bear 
the sight of her; and I don't wonder." 

"But Miss Gault, my dear Miss Gault, what has Chris- 
tie done? I should think she was the one most to be 
pitied." 

Wolf bent his shaggy eyebrows almost fiercely upon 
his companion; and after a moment's encounter with his 



THE HORSE-FAIR 295 

gaze Miss Gault glanced away and contemplated the 
sweet-stall. 

"What has Christie Malakite done to you?" asked 
Wolf sternly. 

"Oh, if you must have it, boy, you shall have it! Lis- 
ten. I went over there when all that trouble happened. 
I had some sort of official position; and things like this, 
unspeakable things like this, were what I had to deal 
with. The Society sent me, in fact." 

Wolf lifted his eyebrows very high at this. He began 
to detect an aspect of Miss Selena Gault's character that 
hitherto had been concealed from him. 

"What society?" he asked. 

"The Society for the Care of Delinquent Girls. And I 
found Miss Christie, let me tell you, both obstinate and 
impertinent. She actually defended that abominable old 
wretch! She wanted to keep Olwen in their house. For- 
tunately the child can't bear the sight of her ... or of 
that old monster either. It's instinct, I expect." 

"It doesn't happen to be anything you or Mattie may 
have let fall?" shouted Wolf in her ear. 

"Why, you're defending them now!" Miss Gault re- 
torted, her face dark with anger. "If you knew all, boy, 
you wouldn't dare!" 

Wolf felt extreme discomfort and distaste. 

"What else is there for me to know, Miss Gault?" he 
demanded aloud and in a quieter voice; for there had 
come a pause in the whistling of the engine. 

"That old man was one of the most evil influences in 
your father's life." 



296 WOLF SOLENT 

"Does Mattie know that?" he enquired. 

"Oh, Mattie!" she cried contemptuously. "Mattie 
knows just as much as we've considered it wise to tell 
her." 

"Who are we?" said Wolf drily. 

"Mr. Smith and myself. Don't you see, boy, we had 
to make ourselves responsible to the police for Olwen's 
bringing up? It's been an unholy business, the whole 
affair! It gives me a kind of nausea to talk about it." 

Wolf found that his protective instincts were thor- 
oughly aroused by this time; and Miss Gault's figure 
assumed an unattractive shape. 

"It's this accursed sex-suppression," he said to him- 
self; and he suddenly thought with immense relief of his 
mother, and of her scandalously light touch in the pres- 
ence of every conceivable human obliquity. "I must be 
cautious," he said to himself. "I mustn't show my hand. 
But who would have thought she was like this!" He 
looked Miss Gault straight in the face. 

"Does Mr. Urquhart know the history of my sister and 
the history of 01 wen?" he asked abruptly, leaning so 
heavily on his stick that it sank deep into the turf. 

A flicker of relief crossed the woman's agitated fea- 
tures. 

"Mr. Urquhart? Oh, you may be sure he has his ver- 
sion, just as all the neighbourhood has! It's been the 
great scandal of the country." 

The use of this particular word made Wolf explode. 

"Greater than the doings of Mattie's father?" he 
rapped out. 



THE HORSE-FAIR 297 

He regretted his maliciousness as soon as the words 
were uttered. That scene in the cemetery came back to 
his mind. 

"I didn't mean that, dear Miss Gault!" he cried, pull- 
ing his stick violently out of the sod. But she had turned 
her face away from him, and for a little while they stood 
silently there, side by side, while the crowd jostled them 
and the engine renewed its whistling. At last she did 
turn round, and her face was sad and gentle. 

"We won't quarrel, will we, Wolf?" she murmured, 
bending close to his ear so that he shouldn't lose her 
words. It was the first time she had dropped that rather 
annoying "boy"; and the use of his name did much to 
restore his good-temper. 

"It's all right," he whispered back. "Let's go on now, 
eh?" 

The merry-go-round in front of which they had passed 
was isolated from the rest. They proceeded to push their 
way through the crowds towards the next one, which was 
some three hundred yards further on. 

Suddenly they saw before them the anxious little 
figure of Mrs. Otter, leaning on Darnley's arm; while- 
Jason, his melancholy gaze surveying the scene as if he 
were a Gaulish captive in a Roman triumph, was stand- 
ing apart, like one who had no earthly link with his re- 
lations or with anyone else. 

Wolf felt singularly disinclined to cope with these 
people at that moment. He had received of late so many 
contradictory impressions, that his brain felt like an 
overcrowded stage. But he gathered his wits together as 



298 WOLF SOLENT 

well as he could, and for a while they all five stood talk- 
ing rather wearily, exchanging commonplaces as if they 
had been at a garden-party rather than a fair. 

By degrees Wolf managed to edge away from the two 
ladies, who were listening to Darnley's criticism of the 
horse-show, and began to exchange more piquant re- 
marks with the dilapidated poet. 

"Did you see our clergyman?" said Jason. 

"Mr. Valley?" 

The man nodded. 

"Certainly I did. I talked to him when I first got 
here." 

"Making a fool of himself as usual " 

"Come, Mr. Otter " 

"Well, I daresay it's no affair of ours. It's best to 
mind one's own business. That's what God's so good at 
. . . minding His own business! Seen Urquhart any- 
where?" 

"I was with him just now. Monk drove him over." 

Jason Otter's face expressed panic. 

"Is that man here?" he whispered. 

Wolf had already remarked how oddly Jason's fits of 
mortal terror assorted with the monumental dignity of 
his grim and massive countenance. 

"Why not? I understand he gave a lift to your old 
Mrs. Stone. You ought to be grateful to him." 

"Urquhart pays him to spy on me, and one day he'll 
beat me like a black dog!" 

"Incredible, Mr. Otter!" It became more and more 
difficult for Wolf to take seriously the man's morbid 
timorousness. It was impossible to make sport of him; 



THE HORSE-FAIR 299 

but he could not prevent a faint vein of raillery from 
entering into his reply. "He looks a powerfully built 
fellow." 

"I tell you this, Solent, I tell you this" and Jason 
clutched Wolf's arm and glanced round to make sure 
that the others were out of hearing "one day I shall be 
picked up unconscious in a ditch, beaten half-dead by 
that man!" 

But Wolf's mind had wandered. 

"By the way, Mr. Otter, if you ever want to sell that 
Hindoo idol of yours, I'll buy it from you!" 

The poet stareJ at him blankly. 

"I'll give five times whatever it cost you!" 

"It cost me a pound," said Jason grimly. 

"Very well; I'll buy it for five pounds. Is that 
agreed?" 

Jason pondered a little. 

"Why do you want that thing? To bury it?" 

"Perhaps that's it! How discerning you are!" And 
Wolf smiled genially at him. 

"Very well, I'll sell it to you." He paused for a mo- 
ment. "And if you could let me have that five pounds 
tomorrow, I should be very much obliged." 

"Good Lord!" thought Wolf to himself. "I've done it 
now! Probably they keep the poor wretch without a 
penny, to stop him from drinking." 

"I'm not sure that I can manage it tomorrow," he said 
affably, "but you shall have it, Mr. Otter; and I'm sure 
I'm very grateful to you." 

"Shall you bury it?" whispered Jason again, in a 
voice as sly and furtive as a wicked schoolboy. 



300 WOLF SOLENT 

"I don't want you to have it any longer, anyhow," said 
Wolf laughing. 

Jason put his hand to his mouth and chuckled. 

"By the way," Wolf went on, "I've never yet read a 
line of your poetry, Mr. Otter." 

The words were no sooner out of his mouth than 
he stared at the man in bewildered amazement. It was 
as if a mask had fallen from his face, revealing a to- 
tally different human countenance. 

"Will you really read something? Will you really?" 

The tone in which he said this was so childlike in its 
eagerness that Wolf felt a sudden unexpected tenderness 
for the queer man, quite different from his previous 
amused indulgence. "How they must have outraged his 
life-illusion among them all!" he thought. 

"But your mother adores your poetry; and your 
brother likes it too, doesn't he?" 

Jason gave him one deep, slow, penetrating look that 
was like the opening of a sluice-gate. 

"My mother ... my brother . . ." And the man 
shrugged his shoulders as if Wolf had referred to the 
activities of water-flies in relation to human affairs. 

"They don't understand it, you mean? They don't get 
its significance, for all their devotion? Well, I think I 
realize what you suffer from. But I don't suppose I shall 
understand it either." 

"I've written lately . . . very lately . . . last night, 
in fact a poem to him." 

"To whom?" 

"To him ... to Mukalog." 

Wolf wrinkled his eyebrows and stared intently at 



THE HORSE-FAIR 301 

him for a moment. "You'll be altogether happier when 
you've sold that thing to me, Mr. Otter," he said. 

"You'd like to bury him in your garden," Jason mut- 
tered. And then quite unexpectedly he smiled so dis- 
armingly that Wolf once again experienced that wave of 
affection. 

"I expect lots of people wish I were dead," he added, 
with a queer chuckle. 

"I don't wish you were dead," said Wolf, looking into 
his eyes. "But I wish you would let me throw away that 
demon!" 

A gleam of nervous irritation flashed from Jason's 
eyes, and his upper lip trembled. 

"He's myself!" he murmured. "He's what I am!" Then 
after a pause he jerked his thumb towards his brother. 
"Darnley's a funny one," he whispered, nudging Wolfs 
arm. "Listen to him talking to the ladies! He ought to 
have been a member of Parliament. He loves to behave 
like a grand gentleman." 

"He is a grand gentleman!" said Wolf drily. 

"And as for that great bully of yours, Squire Urqu- 
hart," Jason went on, raising his voice, "hell die 
without any demon to help him. He's on that road 
now!" 

These last words were uttered with such concentrated 
vindictiveness that Wolf opened his eyes wide. 

"Did you see how he looked," went on Jason, "when 
those stallions passed him? He had to hang on to the 
rope to keep himself from falling. ... I can tell you 
what crossed his mind then!" 

"What?" enquired Wolf. 



302 WOLF SOLENT 

"To throw himself under their hooves! To be trodden 
into the ground by fifty stallions!" 

"Are ye talking of stallions, gentlemen?" said a well- 
known voice; and Roger Monk, accompanied by the 
waiter of the Lovelace Hotel, stood before them, touching 
his hat politely. 

Darnley and Miss Gault moved forward now, and Mrs. 
Otter began asking Monk about Dimity Stone and thank- 
ing him for picking up the old woman. 

"Come on," whispered Jason in Wolfs ear. "Let's 
clear out of this! You see what he is ... a great lub- 
berly catchpole, not fit for anything except horse-racing! 
He's got rid of Dimity and joined up with that waiter 
with the idea of annoying someone. He wouldn't dare to 
insult anyone alone; but with that sly dog of a waiter 

you know what waiters are " He paused and 

glanced back furtively at his mother and at the two 
serving-men. "I'd like," he added, "to see Valley well 
fooled by those rascals. He'd have to go home alone 
then; and a good thing, too!" 

"You've got your knife into us all, Mr. Otter," said 
Wolf slowly. "And I think it'? a mistake. It's a waste of 
energy to hate people at the rate you do." 

But Jason's attention was still so absorbed in watching 
Monk and the waiter, that he listened to him only with 
half an ear; and, indeed, shortly afterwards he shuffled 
off with barely a word of farewell. 

Shrugging his shoulders, under this rebuff, Wolf strode 
away in pursuit of Darnley and Miss Gault. 

When he reached these two, he held out his hand and 
raised his hat. 



THE HORSE-FAIR 303 

"I think I'll leave you now in Mr. Otter's care," he 
said to Miss Gault. "It's about time I began to look for 
my mother." 

Selena appeared a little disconcerted at his abrupt de- 
parture, but Darnley gave him his usual gentle and in- 
dulgent smile. 

"You always seem to bring me luck, Solent," he said. 
"But au revoir! We may meet on the road; for I expect 
my mother will be tired of this soon." 

Wolf shogged off by himself; and as soon as the crowd 
concealed him from the sight of his friends, he began 
waving his stick in the air. This was an old trick of his, 
and he invariably gave way to it when, after any pro- 
longed period of human intercourse, he found himself 
alone and in the open. 

He made his way rapidly to the extreme western cor- 
ner of the great fair-field, where there were certain small 
swings patronized rather by children than by grown-up 
people. 

As he threaded his way through all those excitable 
West Country folk he did his best to reduce to some sort 
of order the various jolts and jars he had received. So 
many confused impressions besieged his consciousness 
that he wished devoutly he were going to return to King's 
Barton on foot instead of driving. 

His thoughts became complicated just at this moment 
by the teasing necessity of finding some place among 
those tents where he could make water. Drifting about 
with this in view, he found himself recalling all manner 
of former occasions when he had been driven to this kind 
of search. It took him so long to find what he wanted, that 



304 WOLF SOLENT 

when he had found it and had re-emerged into the sun- 
shine, he experienced an extraordinary heightening of 
his spirits. 

The acrid, ammoniacal smell of that casual retreat 
brought back to his mind the public lavatory on the 
esplanade at Weymouth, into which, from the sun- 
warmed sands, he used to descend by a flight of spittle- 
stained steps. This memory, combined with an access 
of pervading physical comfort, drew his mind like a mag- 
net toward his secretive mystical vice. Once more, as 
he gave himself up to this psychic abandonment, he felt 
as if he were engaged in some mysterious world-conflict, 
where the good and the evil ranged themselves on op- 
posite sides. 

He rubbed his hands together in the old reckless way, 
as he walked along; and it seemed to him as if all these 
new impressions of his took their place in this mysterious 
struggle. That ravaged face of the Waterloo steps min- 
gled its hurt with what Jason, Valley, Christie, were all 
suffering; while the sinister magnetism that emanated 
from Mr. Urquhart fused its influence with that of Ja- 
son's idol, and the cruelty of Miss Gault to Christie, and 
of his mother to Miss Gault! 

When this orgy of mystic emotion passed away, as it 
presently did, leaving him as limp and relaxed as if 
he had been walking for hours instead of minutes, he 
became aware that there were two irritating perplexities 
still fretting his mind, like stranded jelly-fish left high 
and dry on a bank of pebbles. 

He found himself steering his consciousness with ex- 
treme care, as he walked along, so as to avoid contact 



THE HORSE-FAIR 305 

with these two problems. But, as generally happens, he 
had not gone far before he was plunged into both of 
them, mingled confusedly together. 

All about him was the smell of trodden grass, of 
horse-dung, of tar, of paint, of cider, of roasted chestnuts, 
of boys' new clothes, of rustic sweat, of girls' cheap per- 
fumes, of fried sausages, of brassy machinery, of stale 
tobacco; and these accumulated odours seemed to resolve 
themselves into one single odour that became a wavering 
curtain, behind which these two dangerous thoughts were 
moving moving and stirring the curtain into bulging 
folds as concealed figures might do on a theatre-stage, 
between the acts of a play. 

The first of these thoughts was about his ill-assorted 
parents. He felt as if there were going on in his spirit 
an unappeasable rivalry between these two. He felt as if 
it were that grinning skull in the cemetery, with his 
"Christ! I've had a happy life!" that had made him 
snatch at Gerda so recklessly, with the express purpose 
of separating him from his mother! It was just what 
that man would have done had he been alive. How he 
would have rejoiced in an irresponsible chance-driven 
offspring ! 

And then, before he had finished untying this knot of 
his parents' hostility, he was plunged into the second 
dangerous thought. This was more troubling to his peace 
than the other. It was about that grey feather which he 
had found in that book of Christie's! Why did it rouse 
such peculiar interest in him, to think of Christie and of 
Christie's fondness for the works of Sir Thomas Browne? 
What was Christie to him with her books and her queer 



306 WOLF SOLENT 

tastes? What stability could there be in his love for 
Gerda when this troubling curiosity stirred within him 
at the idea of Gerda's friend? 

As he thought of all this, his eyes caught sight of the 
golden face of a little dandelion in the midst of the 
trodden grass. He touched the edge of its petals rather 
wearily with the end of his stick, thinking to himself, 
"If I leave it there it'll probably be trodden by these 
people into the mud in a few minutes; and if I pick it 
up it'll be dead before I get home!" 

He decided to give the dandelion a chance to survive. 
"After all, it may survive," he thought; "and if it doesn't 
Ailinon! Ailinon! What does it matter?" 

Moving on again at random, burdened with perplexi- 
ties, he suddenly found himself in the midst of a circle 
of children who were gazing in envious rapture at a gaily 
decorated swing that was whirling up and down in full, 
crowded activity. It was a boat-swing, and the boats 
were painted azure and scarlet and olive-green. . . . 

And there, among the children in the swing, was 01- 
wen, and there, by the side of it, watching Olwen swing- 
ing, was Mattie Smith herself! To come bolt-up upon 
her like this, in the midst of so many agitating thoughts, 
was a shock. He experienced that sort of mental desper- 
ation that one feels when one forces oneself awake from 
a dream that grows unendurable. And in his knowledge 
that she was his sister he saw her now as a totally differ- 
ent Mattie. But what a sad face she had! She was so 
nervous about Olwen that he could regard her for 
several long seconds unobserved. What heavy ill-corn- 
plexioned cheeks! What a disproportioned nose! What 



THE HORSE-FAIR 307 

a clouded apathetic brow, and what patient eyes! "She's 
had a pretty hard life," he thought. "I wonder if she 
knows or doesn't know?" 

Olwen was the first to catch sight of him; and her ex- 
cited waving made Mattie hurriedly glance round. 

She recognized him at once, too, and a flood of colour 
came into her pale cheeks. Wolf felt a curious embar- 
rassment as they shook hands; and it was almost a relief 
to him to be forced to take his eyes off her in order to 
respond to Olwen, who was now waving to him franti- 
cally from her flying seat. 

The child could not of course stop the machinery of 
the swing; and when she saw that he had answered her 
signal, she contented herself with just sweeping him into 
that rapturous topsy-turvy world of people, grass, 
horses, trees, ruins, and hills which rose and'fell around 
her as she rushed through the air! 

The cries of the children, the clang of the machinery, 
the voices of the showmen, covered Wolf and Mattie with 
a protective screen of undisturbed privacy. In the light 
of subsequent events they both looked back upon this 
moment with peculiar and romantic tenderness. 

Directly she gave him her hand even while he still 
held it he had begun to talk to her of their relation- 
ship. 

"I've known it since I was fifteen," she said; "and 
I'm twenty-five this month. That was what made it so 
awkward when you and your mother came to our house. 
She knows it, of course ; and she let me see that she knew 
it. But I saw she had kept it from you. Has she told you 
about it since? What I cannot make out is whether Father 



BOS WOLF SOLENT 

knows. He knows about Olwen, of course. In fact, he and 
Miss Gault were the ones who took Olwen away from Mr. 
Malakite." 

She paused, and gave Wolf a quick, furtive look; but 
what she saw in his face appeared to reassure her, for 
she smiled faintly. 

"It's all so hard to talk about," she said in a low 
voice. "I'd never have thought I could talk to you about 
it. But it seems easy, now I'm actually doing it! I was 
young then, you see ... only fifteen; and Father and 
Miss Gault thought I knew nothing. But I'd heard the 
servants talking; and I read about it in the 'Western Ga- 
zette.' Why do you think it was I wasn't more shocked 
. . . Wolf?" 

The hesitancy with which she brought out his name 
enchanted him. He snatched at her hand and made a 
movement as if he would kiss her; but she glanced hur- 
riedly at the swing and drew back. 

"I'm pretty hard to shock, too, Mattie dear," he said. 
"I expect we inherit that!" he added lightly. 

"It was when they brought me to see Olwen at the 
'Home,' " the girl continued, "that I made Father have 
her at our house, for Nanny . . . she was my nurse then 
. . . and me to take care of! I knew she was at the 
'Home,' . . . oh, Wolf, she was such a sweet little thing! 
... for I heard them talking about her. And I made 
Father take me to see her, and we were friends in a sec- 
ond." 

"So it was you that persuaded MT. Smith to take her 
into his house?" said Wolf. "And you were only a child 
yourself." 



THE HORSE-FAIR 309 

Mattie gave a quaint little chuckle. "I was a pretty ob- 
stinate child, I'm afraid," she said. "Besides, Olwen and 
I both cried terribly and hugged each other. I was mad 
about children," she added gravely; "just mad about 
them, when I was young." 

"Was your father hard to persuade?" enquired Wolf. 

The girl gave him one of her lowering sulkily-humor- 
ous glances. 

"I made a fuss, you see," she said solemnly. "I cried 
and cried, till he agreed. It was Miss Gault who opposed 
it most. Oh, Wolf, it's terrible how Miss Gault has made 
the child hate Christie. Christie has seen her several 
times. I managed that for her! But Miss Gault must have 
said something. I don't know what. But the last time 
Olwen would hardly speak to her." 

Wolf frowned. "Of course, it's possible, I suppose, 

that it's some kind of instinct in the little girl " he 

began ponderingly. 

"No! No!" cried Mattie. "It's Miss Gault. I know it's 
Miss Gault!" 

"Christie told me she might be here this afternoon," 
said Wolf, looking about him from group to group of the 
noisy young people around them. 

"Did she?" said Mattie, with a nervous start. "Did 
she really, Wolf?" And she, too, threw an anxious glance 
round the field. "I wouldn't like her feelings to be hurt," 
she added. "They would be, I know, if she tried to speak 
to Olwen." 

Wolf's mind reverted violently to the solitary grey 
feather in the "Urn Burial." At that moment he felt as 
though not anyone ... not Gerda herself . . . could 



310 WOLF SOLENT 

stop him from following that fragile figure if he caught 
sight of it in this crowd! 

But Mattie was now waving her hand to Olwen, whose 
airy boat had begun to slacken its speed. 

They moved together towards the swing; and Wolf 
rushed forward to help the child to the ground. As he 
lifted her out, he felt his forehead brushed by the floating 
ends of her loosened hair. 

She put her thin arms round him and hugged him tight 
as soon as he set her down. 

"Oh, I love swinging so! I love swinging so!" she 
gasped. 

"Would you like to have another one?" he said 
gravely, looking down at that glowing little face. 

Her eyes shone with infinite gratitude. "Aunt Mattie's 
spent every penny Grandfather gave her," she whispered. 
"Would you really give me one more? There! You pay 
it to that man over there; the one with the funny eyes!" 

Wolf handed over the coin and lifted the child back 
into the painted boat. He waited at her side till the ma- 
chinery started again and then returned to Mattie. 

"Didn't you have the least guess about you and me?" 
the girl said; and it gave him a thrill of pleasure to 
see what animation had come into her stolid countenance. 

"Not exactly a guess," he answered. "But I did have 
some kind of an odd feeling; as though I understood you 
and followed your thoughts, even when you were silent. 
Heavens! Mattie, dear; and you were silent almost all 
the time!" 

"Your mother wasn't very nice to me." 



THE HORSE-FAIR 311 

"Well, one can hardly blame her for that, can one? 
People do feel rather odd in these situations." 

"But I was nice to you, wasn't I?" the girl went on. 
"And yet I couldn't bear to think that Father wasn't 
my real father," she added faintly. 

Mattie's face had such a touching expression at that 
moment an expression at once so thrilled and so puz- 
zled that with a quick and sudden movement he flung 
his arm round her neck and gave her a brusque kiss, 
full on the mouth. 

"Mr. Solent! Wolf!" she protested feebly. "You 
mustn't! What will she think?" 

"Oh, she'll think you've found a young man," he re- 
plied, laughing; "and so you have, my dear," he added 
affectionately. 

But though he laughed at her embarrassment, and 
though she laughed faintly with him, it was clear enough 
to his mind, as he glanced at the face of the child in 
the swing, that their kiss had not been received very hap- 
pily up there. 

Two burning eyes flashed down at him like two quiv- 
ering poniards, and two fierce little hands clutched the 
sides of the olive-green boat as if they had been the 
sides of a war-chariot. 

"That child of yours is jealous," he whispered hur- 
riedly in his companion's ear. "But don't you worry," 
he added. "It won't last, when she knows me better." 

He moved up to the swing and remained watching the 
little girl as she whirled past him like a small angry- 
eyed comet. 



312 WOLF SOLENT 

By degrees his steady matter-of-fact attention disarmed 
that jealous heart; and when the swing stopped, and he 
had gravely kissed her and handed her back to Mattie, 
all was once more well. 

"We must go now and find your grandfather," said 
Mattie to Olwen. 

"I'll come with you," said Wolf. "I left my mother 
with Mr. Smith; so we'll kill two birds with one 
stone!" 

They moved off together; but suddenly, crossing a gap 
among the people, Wolf caught sight of Bob Weevil 
and Lobbie Torp. 

"You go on, you two do you mind? We'll meet later. 
There's someone I must run after." 

Both of his companions looked a little hurt at this 
brusque departure; but with a repeated "We'll meet 
later! Good-bye!" he swung off in clumsy haste, push- 
ing his way so impetuously through the crowd, that he 
aroused both anger and derision. 

For a time he was afraid that he had lost his quarry 
completely, so dense had the medley become around the 
booths; but at last, with a sigh of relief, he came upon 
them. They were both watching with unashamed delight a 
young short-skirted gipsy who was dancing wildly to a 
tambourine. As she danced, she beat her knees and threw 
bold, provocative glances at her audience. 

Wolf approached the two boys unobserved and was 
conscious of a passing spasm of shameless sympathy 
when he caught the expression of entranced lechery in 
the concentrated eyes of the young grocer. Lobbie Torp's 
interest was evidently distracted by the audacious leaps 



THE HORSE-FAIR 313 

and bounds of the gipsy-wench and by her jangling mu- 
sic; but Mr. Weevil could contemplate nothing but her 
legs. These moving objects seemed to be on the point of 
causing him to howl aloud some obscene "Evoe!" For 
his mouth was wide open and great beads of perspira- 
tion stood out upon his forehead. 

The girl stopped breathless at last, but without a mo- 
ment's delay began to collect money, holding out her 
musical instrument with long, bare arms, arid indulg- 
ing in liberal and challenging smiles. 

It tickled Wolf's fancy at this juncture to note the 
beaten-dog expression in Mr. Weevil's countenance as 
he pulled Lobbie away with him and tried to shuffle off 
unobserved. In their hurried and rather ignominious re- 
treat they ran straight into Wolf's arms. 

"Lordie! Hullo!" stammered Lob. "It's Mr. Redfern 
I mean, Mr. Solent, ain't it?" said Bob Weevil. 

Wolf gravely shook hands with them both. 

"It's not easy to keep one's money in one's pocket on a 
day like this," he remarked casually. 

Mr. Weevil gave him a furtive water-rat glance; and 
Wolf would not have been surprised had the young man 
taken incontinently to his heels. 

"Bob knows all about they gipoos when they do zither 
like moskilties," observed Lob slyly. 

"Shut up, you kid!" retorted the other, "or I'll tell 
Mr. Solent how I caught you kissing a tree." 

"I never kissed no tree," muttered Lob sulkily. 

"What?" cried his friend indignantly. 

"If I did, 'twere along o' they loveyers us seed in Wil- 
lum's Lane ditch. 'Twere enough to make a person kiss 



314 WOLF SOLENT 

his wone self, what us did see; and 'twere ye what showed 
'em to I." 

"I hope you have both enjoyed yourselves this after- 
noon," began Wolf again. "Christie can't have come," 
he thought to himself; and he wondered if he should 
ask Mr. Weevil point-blank about her. 

But Mr. Weevil was bent upon his silly, obstinate 
bullying of Lobbie. He kept trying to inveigle Wolf in 
this unamiable game. 

"Lob thinks we're all as simple as his Mummy in 
Chequers Street!" continued the youth, with an unpleas- 
ant leer. 

"Don't 'ee listen to him!" cried Lob. "Everyone knows 
what his Mummy were, afore old man Weevil paid Law- 
yer Pipe to write 'Whereas' in his girt book!" 

"Listen, you two " expostulated Wolf. "I want to 

ask you both a question." 

"He'll answer 'ee, same as my dad answered Mr. Man- 
ley when 'a cussed about his mother's gravestone. 'Bless 
us!' said my dad, 'and do 'ee take I for King Pha- 
raoh?'" 

"What was it you wanted to ask us, Sir?" enquired the 
elder youth, pompously interrupting Lobbie. 

"Oh, quite a simple thing, Mr. Weevil. I was only 
wondering if Miss Malakite was out here today." 

"Certainly she's here, Sir. Certainly she is." 

"Us came along o' she, on our bicycles," threw in 
Lobbie. 

"Where is she now, then?" Wolf insisted. 

"She went castle-way, I think, Mr. Solent," said Bob 
Weevil. 



THE HORSE-FAIR 315 

"She said to we," interjected Lobbie, "that her reck- 
oned she'd have a quiet stroll-like, long o' they ruings." 

Wolf looked from one to the other. "So, in plain 
words, you deserted Miss Malakite?" he said sternly. 

"Lob knows what I said when she was gone," mum- 
bled Mr. Weevil. 

"When she were gone," echoed the boy. "I should say 
so!" 

"What did you say?" asked Wolf. 

"He said her walked like a lame hare," threw in 
Lobbie. 

"I didn't, you little liar! Don't believe him, Mr. Solent! 
I said she walked lonesome-like with her head hanging 
down." 

"That weren't all you said, Bob Weevil! Don't you 
remember what you said when us were looking at thik 
man-monkey? No! 'twere when us seed they girt can- 
nibals all covered with blue stripes. That's when 'twere! 
Dursn't thee mind how thee said 'twas because Miss 
Malakite hadn't got no young man that she went lop- 
piting off to they ruings 'stead of buying fairings like 
the rest of they?" 

Wolf suddenly found himself losing his temper. "I 
think you both behaved abominably," he cried, "leaving 
a young lady, like that, to go off by herself! Well, I'm 
going after her; and I'll tell her what I think of you 
two when I've found her!" 

He strode off in the direction indicated by the boys' 
words. It was towards the southern extremity of the fair- 
field that he now made his way, where a dilapidated 
hedge and a forlorn little lane separated the castle-field 



316 WOLF SOLENT 

from the castle-ruins. He hadn't gotten far, however, 
when, glancing at a row of motionless human backs, 
transfixed into attitudes of petrified wonder by the ges- 
ticulations of a couple of clowns, he became aware that 
two of those backs were obscurely familiar to him. He ap- 
proached them sideways, and his first glance at their con- 
centrated profiles revealed the fact that they were Mrs. 
Torp and old Dimity Stone. 

It gave him a queer shock to think that this tatterde- 
malion shrew in rusty black was actually Gerda's mother. 
For the least fragment of a second he was aware of a 
shiver of animal panic, like a man who hears the ice 
he is crossing bend and groan under him; but he forced 
himself to walk straight up to them and salute them by 



name. 

"T', 



I'm glad to see you, Mrs. Torp," he said cheerfully. 
"How do you do, Dimity? You and I haven't met for 
several long days." 

"Hark at him, Mrs. Stone," gasped Gerda's mother. 
"Hark at him, how 'ee do coax a body! He do look and 
speak just as I was telling 'ee, don't 'ee, now? If I hadn't 
told 'ee, honest to God, how the gentleman spoke, ye'd 
have never known it, would 'ee, Mrs. Stone?" 

The withered face of Mrs. Torp remained turned to- 
ward her companion as she uttered this ambiguous wel- 
come. She seemed unable to give Wolf so much as one 
single glance from her little vixen eyes, over which two 
artificial pansies, hanging from the battered bonnet on 
her head, jiggled disconcertingly. 

But old Dimity retained Wolf's fingers quite a long 
while in her bony hand; and with absorbed and searching 



THE HORSE-FAIR 317 

interest, as if she had been a fortune-teller, she peered 
into his countenance. 

"The gentleman be far from what thee or any others 
have reckoned," repeated the crone slowly. "I've always 
known you were a deep one, Mr. Solent," she added. 

"I'm glad you think better of me than Mrs. Torp does, 
Dimity," threw in Wolf, and he glanced anxiously over 
their heads toward the boundary of the field, his mind 
full of the deserted Christie. 

"I think of 'ee as one what speaks fair enough," grum- 
bled Gerda's mother, "but 'tis deeds / waits for. As I 
said to Torp this very mornin' . . . 'Thy fair-spoken 
young gent,' I said, 'be only another Redfern; and all 
the country do know how daft he were!' Squire Urquhart 
must have 'em daft! Daft must they be for he, as I said 
to Torp. And that's because it's only the daft 'uns what'll 
serve for his cantrips the girt bog-wuzzel 'ee is!" 

Wolf detected a very sagacious expression in old 
Dimity's eye as she dropped his fingers at this. 

"This gent hain't no more a Redfern, Jane Torp, than 
a pond-pike be a gudgeon. What I've a-said to 'ee in 
neighbour-fashion I'd say now to 'ee on Bible-oath." 

There was a dead silence for a moment between the 
three of them, broken only by the gibberish of the two 
clowns, which sounded like the chatter of a pair of im- 
pudent parakeets amid the slow, rich Dorsetshire speech 
about them. 

Without pausing to think of the effect of his words on 
Gerda's mother, Wolf could not restrain himself from 
uttering at this juncture the question which so occupied 
his mind. "By the way, Mrs. Torp, have you, by any 



318 WOLF SOLENT 

chance, seen Miss Malakite here this afternoon? I 
wanted to find her." 

Mrs. Torp nudged her companion with the handle of 
her umbrella. 

"So ye're after her, too, are ye, Mister? What do 'ee 
make o' that, Dimity Stone? Hee! Hee! Hee! The gen- 
tleman from London must have a sweetheart for Wednes- 
day and a sweetheart for Thursday. But you have a care, 
Mr. Solent! Our Gerda hain't one for sharing her fair- 
ings; and she'll let 'ee know it! Won't she, Dimity 
Stone?" 

Wolf felt unable to decide whether this outburst, under 
the pressure of which the thin cheeks of Mrs. Torp tight- 
ened over their bones till they were as white as the skin 
of a toad-stool, was just ordinary Blacksod humour or 
was malignity. He contented himself with taking off his 
hat, wishing them a pleasant evening, and hurrying 
away. 

As he moved towards the southern boundary of the 
field, he found his mind beset with a burden of tumultu- 
ous misgiving. Mrs. Torp's malicious "Hee! Hee! Hee!" 
continued to croak like a devil's frog in the pit of his 
stomach; and he remembered with hardly less discom- 
fort the queer look that the old Dimity had given him. 
He must find Christie! That was the one essential neces- 
sity. Every step he took towards that ragged little hedge 
increased his nervous agitation. 

"Why did chance throw them both in my way at this 
same moment?" he thought, as he walked automatically 
forward. And then a still more furtive and dangerous 



THE HORSE-FAIR 319 

whisper entered his mind. 'Why didn't I meet Christie 
first? 9 ' 

The ghastly treachery of this final speculation, coming 
to him on the very morrow of the "yellow bracken," 
only made him shake his head, as if freeing himself from 
a thicket of brambles, and stride forward with more 
reckless resolution than ever. 

Long afterwards he could recall every slightest sensa- 
tion that he had as he crossed that empty portion of the 
fair-field. One of these sensations was a vivid awareness 
of the sardonic grimacing of that man in the church- 
yard. The perversity of his father seemed physically to 
weigh upon him. He had the feeling that he was himself 
reproducing some precise piece of paternal misdoing. 
He felt shamelessly like him! He felt as though his arms 
were swinging as his arms used to ... his legs striding 
the very stride of his legs! 

He had now left the last tent far behind, and was 
approaching the low thickset hedge that separated the 
castle-field from the castle-lane. 

As he came up to the hedge, he nearly stumbled over 
a half-skinned, half-eaten rabbit, one of whose glazed 
wide-open eyes fixed itself upon him from the ground 
with a protesting appeal. 

Mechanically he stooped down, and, lifting the thing 
up by its ears, placed it among the young dock-leaves 
and the new shoots of hedge-parsley. 

Then he leaned both his arms over the top of the 
brambles, and, raising himself on tiptoe, peered into the 
lane beyond. 



320 WOLF SOLENT 

Ah! He had not then come to no purpose! 

A little way down the lane, under a closed and care- 
fully wired gate leading to the castle-ruins, crouched the 
unmistakable figure of Christie Malakite. 

The girl was on her knees, her legs crooked under 
her and her hands clasped on her lap. By her side, 
fallen to the ground, were her hat and some sort of pa- 
per parcel. She lifted her head and saw him there; but 
remained motionless, just staring at him without a sign. 
Wolf tightened his long overcoat round his knees and 
forced his way straight through the thick brambles. A 
couple of minutes later he was kneeling by her side on 
the grass, hugging her tear-stained face against his ribs 
and stroking her hair with his hands. "I've had a hunt 
for you ... a hunt for you!" he panted. "What did 
you come to this damned place for? Well! I've got you 
now, anyway. I don't know what I should have done if 
I hadn't found you. But I've hunted you down . . . 
like a hare, my dear . . . just like a hare!" 

"I'm ... a ... little . . . fool!" she gasped faintly. 
"I'll be all right in a minute. I ought ... to have . . . 
known better than ... to have come here! The boys 
were kind . . . but, of course, they wanted ... to en- 
joy themselves. I was a burden on them . . . and then 
I felt ... I felt I couldn't . . . bear it!" 

She pressed her face against his coat, struggling to 
hold back her tears. 

Moving his hands to her shoulders, and bending down, 
he touched the top of her head with his lips. Her hair, 
neatly divided by a carefully brushed parting, was so 
silky and fine that he felt as if his kiss had penetrated 



THE HORSEHAIR 321 

to the very centre of her skull. But she did not draw 
away from him. She only buried her forehead deeper in 
the folds of his heavy coat. 

There was a tuft of loosely-growing stitchwort in the 
hedge by the gate-post; and this frail plant, as he sur- 
veyed it across her crouching form, mingled with his 
wild thoughts. Had anything like this ever happened to 
a man before . . . that on the day after such an ecstasy 
he should feel as he felt now? "I must be a monster!" 
he said to himself. "Am I going to begin snatching at 
the soul and body of every girl I meet down here?" 
With the cluster of stitchwort still illuminating his 
thought, as a flower-scroll illuminates a monkish script, 
he now struggled desperately to justify himself. 

"This feeling," he protested, "is a different thing al- 
together. It's pity . . . that's what it is! And, of course, 
Gerda being so beautiful, pity doesn't . . ." 

Christie lifted up her head now, and sat back, hug- 
ging her knees and staring at him. He, too, changed his 
position, so that his shoulders leant against the lower 
bars of the gate. "It's queer how natural it seems to 
be ... to be with you like this," he said slowly. 

She gave a little nod. "I used to tell myself stories 
. . ." she began, searching his face intently as if what 
she wanted to say lay hidden in its lines. "I feel so dif- 
ferent now," she went on, "that it would be easy to tell 
you. . . ." Once more her voice sank into silence. 

"It's better to be alone," he echoed, "unless you can 
think aloud. I've been walking about this fair-field all 
the afternoon and talking to everyone; but I couldn't 
think aloud until this moment." 



322 WOLF SOLENT 

They were both silent, staring helplessly at each other. 

"I wish you were a boy, Christie!" he brought out 
abruptly. 

Something in the peevish gravity of this must have 
tickled her fancy, for she smiled at him with a free, 
unrestrained, schoolgirlish smile. 

"I used to wish that myself," she murmured gently; 
and then she sighed, her smile fading as quickly as it 
had come. 

He knitted his heavy eyebrows and scowled at her in 
deep thought. 

Two persistent sounds forced their identities into his 
drugged consciousness. The first was the brazen clamour 
of the whirligig engines. The second was the whistling 
of a blackbird. This latter sound had already assumed 
that peculiar mellowness which meant that the sun- 
rays were falling horizontally upon that spot, and that 
the long March afternoon was drawing to its close. 

It was impossible that this bird's voice could fail to 
bring to his mind the events of yesterday's twilight and 
that up-turned face at which he had gazed so exultantly 
in the gathering river-mists. To drown the blackbird's 
notes, he began hurriedly telling her one thing after 
another of his afternoon's adventures. When he came to 
his conversation with Miss Gault, they both instinctively 
shifted their position ; and he found himself helping her 
to adjust the loosened belt of her old-fashioned cloak 
with a gesture that was almost paternal. 

"One thing I cannot understand," he said. 

"Well?" she murmured. 



THE HORSE-FAIR 323 

"I cannot understand how Olwen should feel towards 
you as they tell me she does." 

The girl's forehead wrinkled itself into a strained, 
pinched intensity; but all she said was, "I could never 
take care of any child as well as Mattie Smith." 

"I don't believe you," he retorted bluntly. 

He avoided her eyes now; and, as he looked away into 
the great elm-tree that grew near the gate, he caught 
sight of a large nest up there. 

"Is that a rook's nest?" he asked, pointing it out to 
her with upraised arm. 

Christie turned and peered upwards. 

"A missel-thrush's, I think," she said, after a second's 
hesitation. "Rooks' nests are all sticks . . . and they're 
higher up, too." 

With lifted heads they both stared into the elm-tree, 
and, beyond the tree, into the cold March sky. 

"Why not take us as we are," he said slowly, appar- 
ently addressing the missel-thrush's nest, "as two hunted, 
harassed consciousnesses, meeting by pure chance in 
endless blue space and finding out that they have the 
same kind of mind?" 

Their heads sank down after this, and Wolf automat- 
ically fumbled for his cigarettes and then consciously let 
them go. 

"I've never felt as much at ease with anyone as with 
you, Christie . . . except perhaps my mother. No, not 
even except her." 

"I think we are alike," she said quietly. And then, 
with the same schoolgirlish simple amusement that had 



324 WOLF SOLENT 

struck him before, "We're too alike, I think, to do much 
harm to anyone!" 

Her face grew suddenly grave, and she stretched out 
her thin arm and touched Wolf lightly on the knee. "You 
must be prepared for one thing," she said. "You must be 
prepared to find that I haven't a trace of what people 
call the 'moral sense.' " 

"I'll risk that danger!" he retorted lightly. "Besides, 
if you've got no conscience, I'm worse off still. I've got 
a diseased conscience!" 

She didn't even smile at this sally. With a quick 
wrinkling of her brow, as if under a twinge of physical 
discomfort, she scrambled to her feet. 

"I must get my bicycle," she said, with a little shiver. 
"Father will be waiting for his supper." 

Wolf rose too; and they stood rather awkwardly side 
by side, while the blackbird flew off with an angry 
scream. 

"Where is your bicycle?" he asked lamely; and as 
he saw her and felt her, standing there by his side, so 
pitfully devoid of all physical magnetism, he could not 
resist a chilly recognition that something of the mysteri- 
ous appeal that had drawn him to her had slipped away 
and got lost. 

He felt in that second that it had been a piece of pure 
madness to have wished that all this had happened be- 
fore yesterday's "yellow bracken." 

She glanced up at him with a quick, searching look. 
Then she tightened her cloak resolutely round her. "It's 
in the Lovelace stables," she said. "I can easily find it. 
You needn't come." 



THE HORSE-FAIR 325 

"Of course I'll come! I'll go with you and put you 
on it; and then I'll come back for my mother." 

"It's pity I feel," he said to himself. "I've got Gerda 
for good and all. It's just pity I feel." 

They followed the lane westward, skirting the edge of 
the fair-field. When they reached the foot of "The 
Slopes," they saw the whole of Ramsgard outspread be- 
fore them. The sunset-mist, rising up from the River 
Lunt, threw over the little town the sort of glamour that 
cities wear in old fantastic prints, Vaguely, under the 
anaesthesia of this diffused glory in the chilly air, he 
marvelled at the mad chance that had plunged him 
into these two girls' lives with this disturbing simul- 
taneousness. He began furtively trying to annihilate 
with his imagination first one life and then the other 
from his obstinate preoccupation. But the effort proved 
hopelessly futile! To conceive of the future without 
Gerda's loveliness was impossible. But equally was it 
impossible to cover up this strange new feeling. Only 
"pity," . . . but a pity that had a quivering sweetness 
in it! 

"You're all right now?" he enquired abruptly, as they 
crossed the railway-track. 

"Absolutely," she answered firmly, evidently recog- 
nizing that this allusion to her original trouble was a sign 
of a certain withdrawal in her companion. "And please, 
please, believe me when I tell you that I hardly ever 
. . . no, practically never . . . give way like that." 

"What do you think did it?" he blurted out clumsily. 
"Those silly boys deserting you?" 

She made no reply at all to this; and he experienced 



326 WOLF SOLENT 

a wave of embarrassment that brought a hot prickling 
sensation into his cheeks. 

"You've been very kind to me," she said unexpectedly, 
in a clear emphatic voice. And then she added very 
slowly, pronouncing the words as if each of them were 
a heavy bar of silver and she were an exhausted steve- 
dore emptying the hold of a ship, "Kinder ... to me 
. . . than anyone's . . . ever been ... in the whole 
of my life." 

These words of hers, healing his momentary discom- 
fort, gave him such happiness, that, as they entered the 
Lovelace stables and she moved in front of him across 
the cobblestones, he furtively rubbed his hands together, 
just as he would have done if he had been alone. 

"What a good thing you came over here this after- 
noon," he said, as he wheeled her bicycle out of the 
yard. 

"I don't know about that!" she answered promptly, 
with a flicker of her peculiar elfish humour; and it 
turned out to be the tone of these words beyond all oth- 
ers, that remained with him when she was gone. They 
had the tone of some sort of half-human personality 
. . . some changeling out of the purer elements . . . 
upon whose nature whatever impressions fell would al- 
ways fall with a certain mitigation, with a certain lenient 
tenuity, like the fall of water upon water, or of air upon 
air! 



CHRISTIE 



1 HE CHEAP WOODEN CLOCK ON THE MANTELPIECE OF HIS 

small parlour made itself audible to the ears of Wolf 
across the little passageway as he stood above his kitchen- 
stove. Eight times the clock struck; and the old vivid 
consciousness of what time was and was not caught his 
mind and held it. It was not a consciousness of the pass- 
ing of time as it affected his own life that arrested him. 
Of that kind of individual awareness he had scarcely 
any trace. To himself he always seemed neither young 
nor old. Indeed, of bodily self-consciousness that 
weather-eye, kept open to the addition of years and 
months upon his personal head he had nothing at all. 
What he lived in was not any compact, continuous sense 
of personal identity, but rather a series of disembodied 
sensations, some physical, some mental, in which his 
identity was absolutely merged and lost. He was vividly 
aware of these momentary sensations in relation to other 
feelings of the same kind, some long past and some an- 
ticipated in his imagination; but he was accustomed to 
regard all these not from out of the skin, so to speak, of 
a living organism, but from a detachment so remote and 
far away as to seem almost outside both the flowing of 
time and the compactness of personality. 

Eight o'clock in the morning of the first day of June 
was what that timepiece said to him now; and his mind 
paused upon the recognition of the vast company of 
clocks and watches all the world over, ticking, ticking, 



328 WOLF SOLENT 

ticking sending up, in tiny metallic beats, vibrations 
of human computation into the depths of unthinkable 
space. 

He pushed open the iron cover of the stove and jabbed 
with his poker at the fire inside. Then he took up a 
wooden spoon and stirred the contents of an enamelled 
pot of porridge that stood there, moving it aside from 
the heat. A thrill of satisfaction ran through him when 
he had done this, and he rubbed his hands together and 
made a "face," drawing back his under-lip in the man- 
ner of a gargoyle, and constricting the muscles of his 
chin. 

In less than half-an-hour, he thought, he would be 
enjoying his breakfast at that kitchen-table with Gerda, 
lovely and sulky as a young animal after her abrupt 
awakening. 

He ran up the short flight of creaking stairs, car- 
peted with new linoleum; and with the merest pre- 
tence of a tap at the door entered their bedroom. The 
girl was lying on her back fast asleep, her fair hair 
spread out, loose and bright in the sunshine, across the 
indented pillow of her recent bedfellow. Her arms were 
outstretched above the coverlet, and one of her hands 
was hanging down over the side of the bed. His en- 
trance did not arouse her, and he stood for a while at 
her side, meditating on the mysterious simplicity of her 
especial kind of loveliness. 

Then he bent down, kissed her into consciousness, 
laughed at her scolding, and with one resolute swing of 
his arms lifted her bodily from the bed, set her on her 



CHRISTIE 329 

feet on the floor, and hugged her to his heart, struggling 
and indignant. The warmth of her body under the child- 
ish white night-gown she wore, buttoned close up to her 
chin, gave him a rough, earthy, animal ecstasy. He had 
already discovered that it was more delicious to hold 
her like this, he himself fully awake and dressed, and 
she as she was, than under any other circumstances. A 
pleasant element of the unhabitual and the predatory 
sweetened for him that particular embrace. "Don't!" she 
cried, struggling to push him away. "Don't, Wolf! Let 
me go, I tell you!" But he went on kissing her and 
caressing her as if it had been the first time he had ever 
taken her in his arms. 

At last, lifting her clean off her feet, with both arms 
under her body, he put her back upon the bed and drew 
the bedclothes over her. 

"There!" he cried. "How does that feel?" 

But the girl turned round with her face to the wall 
and refused to speak. 

"Eight o'clock, young lady," he cried brusquely. 
"Breakfast will be ready in a quarter of an hour." 

For answer she only pulled the bedclothes more tightly 
round her neck. 

"If you haven't time to wash or do your hair, you must 
come down as you are. Where's your dressing-gown?" 
And he looked vaguely round the room. "Hurry up, 
now!" he added. "Remember all that's going to hap- 
pen today," 

There was a movement under the twisted sheet. 

"You're a wretch!" she gasped, in a muffled voice. 



330 WOLF SOLENT 

"Never mind what I am. Keep your scoldings till you 
get downstairs. I've got an exciting piece of news for 
you." 

This brought her round with a jerk. 

"What are you hiding up in your mind now? Tell 
me quick! Tell me, Wolf!" 

But he only laughed at her, waved his hand, and 
went out. 

Running downstairs again, he returned to the kitchen, 
moved the steaming kettle to the side of the stove, turned 
the spoon in the oatmeal, and then, crossing the little 
passage where his own grey overcoat and Gerda's cream- 
coloured cloak, hanging side by side on their adjoining 
pegs, regarded him with equivocal intentness, he opened 
the front-door and went out into the road. 

In one warm inrushing wave the fragrance of the 
whole West Country seemed to flow through him as he 
came forth. Sap-sweet emanations from the leafy recesses 
of all the Dorset woods on that side of High Sloy seemed 
to mingle at that moment with the rank, grassy breath 
of all the meadow-lands of Somerset. 

The iron railings in front of that row of meagre, non- 
descript houses opened upon the airy confluence of two 
vast provinces of leafiness and sunshine to the right 
Melbury Bub, with its orchards and dairies; to the left 
Glastonbury, with its pastures and fens while the um- 
brageous "auras" of these two regions, blending together 
in the air above the roofs of Blacksod, merged into yet 
a third essence, an essence sweeter than either the very 
soul of the whole wide land lying between the English 
Channel and the Bristol Channel. 



CHRISTIE 331 

Number Thirty-Seven Preston Lane was the last house 
in a row of small workmen's cottages at the extreme 
western limit of the town of Blacksod. What met Wolf's 
actual eyes as he clicked the little gate in the iron rail- 
ings and emerged upon the road, was only a small 
portion of the secret causes of his happiness that June 
morning. He had long craved to establish himself in 
just such a nondescript row of unpretentious dwell- 
ings on the outskirts of a town. He had always had a 
feeling that the magic of simple delights came with 
purer impact upon the mind when unalloyed by the 
"artistic" or the "picturesque." Large houses and large 
gardens, pretty houses and pretty gardens, seemed to 
intrude themselves, with all their responsibilities of 
possession, between his senses and the free, clear flow of 
unconfined, unpersonalized beauty. His feeling about 
the matter had something in common with the instinct 
that has created the monk's cell only the cell that Wolf 
preferred was a lath-and-plaster workman's villa, a 
place possessed of no single aesthetic quality, except per- 
haps that of being easily kept very neat and clean. 

The fact of living here with Gerda under conditions 
identical with those of the Blacksod carpenters, brick- 
layers, and shop-assistants, threw into beautiful relief 
every incident of his life's routine. Preparing food, pre- 
paring fires, the very floor-scrubbing wherein he shared, 
took on for him, just because of this absence of the delib- 
erately "artistic," a rarefied poetical glamour. 

He moved out now into the middle of the road and 
surveyed the landscape. As he did so, two very distinct 
and contradictory odours assailed his nostrils. There 



332 WOLF SOLENT 

were no houses across the way, nothing but a foul- 
smelling ditch, the recipient of sewage from an adjoin- 
ing pig-yard; and beyond that, an enormously high 
hedge, on the top of which, where no child could 
reach, grew clumps of honeysuckle and sprays of wild 
roses. The smell of these flowers contended oddly 
enough with the smell of pigs' dung; and the two odours, 
thus subtly mingled, had become for him a constant ac- 
companiment to the thoughts that passed through his 
mind as he went in and out of his tiny front-garden. 

The pigsty was on his right as he stood facing the 
ditch; but on his left there grew in the meadow just 
beyond the hedge a large ash-tree a tree from among 
whose grey upcurving branches a thrush was wont to 
sing, always increasing the vehemence of its ecstasy till 
the moment when the road grew quite dark. The bird 
began singing now, and its thrush-notes made Wolf 
think of those wild blackbird-notes of Gerda, as they 
flooded the meadows on the day when she lost her vir- 
ginity. 

Thinking of Gerda as he stared up into the ash-tree, 
he began to meditate on the extraordinary good luck 
he had had ever since he had come to the West Coun- 
try. "I must be born under a lucky star," he thought; 
and his mind set itself to review the most recent examples 
of this good fortune. 

He recalled the satisfactory manner in which his iron- 
willed mother had suddenly receded from all her op- 
position to his union with Gerda. He recalled the equally 
satisfactory generosity of Mr. Urquhart, who had come 
forward with an offer to let her go on living at Lenty 



CHRISTIE 333 

Cottage free of rent as long as Wolf himself remained his 
secretary. 

He recalled the extraordinary kindness displayed 
toward him by Darnley Otter, who had not only lent him 
the fifty pounds necessary to buy furniture, but had also 
introduced him to the authorities of the Blacksod Gram- 
mar School, where he was now earning a pound a week 
by giving lessons every morning in English and History. 

"Luck! luck! luck!" he said in his heart, rubbing his 
hands together. Through his thin indoor shoes the mag- 
netism of the earth seemed at that moment pouring into 
every nerve of his body. Happiness, such as he had 
rarely experienced, flooded his being; and the fantastic 
idea came into his head that if he were to die now he 
would in some subtle way cheat death. 

"I must remember this moment," he said to himself. 
"Whatever happens to me henceforth, I must remember 
this moment, and be grateful to the gods!" 

Just as he opened the iron gate and glanced at the 
two or three newly-budded plants that were coming out 
in his little patch of garden, the owner of the pigsty, 
a ruffianly curmudgeon who earned his living in more 
than one disreputable way, took it into his head to pour 
out a great bucket of swill into the pig-trough, an action 
that caused so ear-piercing a volley of bestial shrieks, 
that Wolf stopped aghast, his heart almost ceasing to 
beat, and, turning his head, threw an agitated glance 
toward that sinister little erection of tarred boardings. 

His first idea was that one of the animals was being 
slaughtered; but the sound of voracious gobbling which 
now reached his ears reassured him. 



334 WOLF SOLENT 

"He's only feeding them," he said to himself, and en- 
tered the house. In the kitchen he found Gerda already 
beginning her bowl of porridge. 

"What's the news, Wolf?" she enquired, with the 
indistinct voice of a greedy child, turning, as she did 
so, her cream-clogged spoon upside-down in her mouth, 
so as to lick it clean. "What's this you were going to 
tell me?" 

"Guess, sweetheart!" he said contentedly, emptying 
what was left of the cream- jug over his own oatmeal. 
"Nothing, in fact, could be better. Urquhart announced 
last night that he has decided to go slow with our His- 
tory. You know what a hurry he's been in? But he now 
says he's decided to make a complete job of it, even if 
it takes five years to finish." 

The infantile sulkiness in Gerda's face only deepened 
at his words, and with an impatient gesture she stretched 
out her arms and tossed back her head. Then she tight- 
ened the green ribbon with which she had fastened her 
locks, and fixed upon him a cloudy, satiric frown. She 
appeared so enchanting in her crossness, that Wolf for- 
got everything as he watched these movements, and for a 
moment he just looked at her in silence. 

"You don't think much of my news, then?" he said 
presently. "But you don't realize how awkward it would 
have been if this confounded book had come to an end 
this Autumn. Where would we have got another hun- 
dred pounds from, eh, sweetheart? Tell me that!" 

"A hundred pounds!" the girl muttered sarcastically. 

"Yes, a hundred pounds," he retorted. "Two-thirds 
of our income." 



CHRISTIE 335 

He rose and moved to the stove, to get the kettle to 
refill their teapot. 

"But that's not all; so you needn't look sour. There's 
something much more amusing than that." She waited 
impatiently now, and he went on. "Urquhart doesn't 
want me over there this afternoon and Mother's coming 
to tea." 

The girl's sulkiness changed in a moment to something 
like pitiful dismay. 

"Oh, Wolf!" she exclaimed. "This is the first time." 

"She's been twice to lunch," he said. 

But Gerda's eyes remained troubled and very wide 
open, and the corners of her under-lip drooped. 

"Darnley was here, too both times!" she gasped. 
"We've never had her alone, and I've got no clothes 
for an afternoon." 

"No clothes?" 

"You know what I mean, perfectly well," she went 
on peevishly. "People like your mother don't have the 
same things on in the morning as they do in the after- 
noon." 

Wolf watched her with narrowing eyelids. He recalled 
that first walk with her up the slope of Babylon Hill, 
and his pursuit of her among the earthworks of Poll's 
Camp. Why did all girls introduce into life an element 
of the conventional into that life of which they them- 
selves were the most mysterious expression? He became 
suddenly aware of the existence, in the beautiful head 
opposite him, of a whole region of interests and values 
that had nothing to do with love-making and nothing to 
do with romance. Was love itself, then, and all its 



336 WOLF SOLENT 

mysteries, only a kind of magic gate leading into a land 
full of alien growths and unfamiliar soils? 

"Gerda, my sweet Gerda!" he cried reproachfully. 
"How absurd! What does it matter? It's only my mother. 
She must take us as she finds us." 

The girl pouted and smiled scornfully. 

"That's all you know!" she retorted. "Your mother's 
a woman, isn't she?" 

Wolf stared at her. Was there then some queer inner 
world, parallel to the one that was important to him, 
wherein women encountered one another, and without 
whose ritual life was completely unreal to them? "God!" 
he thought to himself. "If this is so, the sooner I get the 
secret of this 'other reality,' the better for both Gerda 
and me!" 

"Well, I only beg one thing of you, sweetheart," he 
went on aloud, "and that is that you don't try and make 
those funny scones again that you made for Christie. 
I'll get some halfpenny buns or tea-cakes at Pimpernel's." 

"Halfpenny buns!" she repeated contemptuously. 

He began to raise his voice. "They're the very nicest 
things! How silly you are! But I don't care what you 
get, as long as there's plenty of thin bread-and-butter." 

"I can't cut it! I never could cut it!" she cried help- 
lessly, her enormous grey eyes beginning to fill with 
tears. 

It was then that Wolf began to realize that it was 
necessary to be as indulgent to the "realities" of this 
alien array of feelings as if they had been those of a 
being of a different planet. He got up from his seat 
and walked round their square kitchen-table, a table 



CHRISTIE 337 

that according to his own caprice had been left bare of 
any covering. Standing over the girl, he bent her head 
back with both his hands and kissed her many times. 

It seemed to him, as he did this, that he had done this 
very same thing in another room, and even in another 
country. He remained motionless behind her for a mo- 
ment when he had released her, and lifted his head. 
Where had all this occurred before? A queer feeling 
came over him as if she and he were acting a part in 
some fantastic dream-world, and that he had only to 
make one enormous effort, to find he had destroyed for 
both of them the whole shadow-scenery of their life. 

But Gerda, knowing nothing of what was passing in his 
mind, turned round in her chair and pushed him away 
with all the strength of her young arm. 

"Don't be so annoying, Wolf!" she cried. "There! I'm 
hungry, I tell you. Haven't you got any eggs for us?" 

He moved away obediently to the stove, made his 
arrangements for boiling three eggs two for himself 
and one for her and remained there on guard, his 
watch in his hand. 

The audible ticking of his watch, as he concentrated 
his mind upon it, answered the louder ticking of the 
clock in the parlour across the passage. "Time again!" 
he sighed. And then he thought, "But I've got the power 
to deal with far more serious jolts to my happiness than 
this finding out that a girl's 'reality' is not my 'reality'!" 

In a minute or two, when he had set a china egg-cup 
in front of each of them and had placed a brown egg 
within hers and a white one in his own, and had resumed 
his seat, he found that his quick adjustment of the wheels 



338 WOLF SOLENT 

and cogs of his mind had proved successful. "It doesn't 
matter in the least," he thought, "whether we understand 
each other or not. My existence is necessary to her, just 
as hers is to me. Neither of us can really spoil anything 
as long as that's the case." 

Whatever secret ways Gerda had of adjusting the 
machinery of her mind, seemed to have been as suc- 
cessful as his own ; for when she had satisfied her hunger 
and filled her teacup with strong, sweet tea, she lifted 
her head quite cheerfully. 

"I'll go to Pimpernel's myself," she said. "I saw some- 
thing there yesterday that I'm sure your mother would 
like. And I'll make toast. That'll be just as nice as 
bread-and-butter." 

Wolf declared himself completely satisfied at this pros- 
pect. 

"You go up now, sweetheart," he said, "and finish 
dressing, and make the bed. I'll wash up. I'll just have 
time for that. There, do go quick! I don't want anyone 
to knock at the door and find you like that. We've got 
to keep up the prestige of Preston Lane!" 

He spoke jestingly, but there was an element of con- 
cern at the back of his mind. He had had some uncom- 
fortable moments now and again, when tradesmen's boys 
had come to the door at an early hour. He hated to think 
of their menage being a laughing-stock to all the Lob 
Torps and Bob Weevils of the town. 

It was a complete puzzle to him the way in which 
Gerda made such a fuss about the conventions where his 
mother was concerned, while to the Bob Weevils of the 
place she let down every barrier as completely as if 



CHRISTIE 339 

she'd drifted into Blacksod from the primeval woods of 
Arcady. 

As he watched her now, rushing upstairs like a young 
Maenad, he remembered how the fancy had come into 
his mind, thai afternoon at Poll's Camp, that the West- 
Saxon Torp blood in her had been crossed at some very 
early stage with an altogether different strain. 

Hurriedly gathering the dishes together on the edge 
of the sink, he proceeded to do what would certainly 
not have passed unobserved by a more practical mis- 
tress of the house. He proceeded to hold cups, saucers, 
plates, bowls, knives, forks, and pots and pans under a 
tap of perfectly cold water, rubbing them and scraping 
them with his bare fingers, and then drying them vio- 
lently greasy as most of them were with ihc kitchen- 
towel. As he did this, he caught a glimpse out of the 
window of a stunted little laburnum-tree, which grew 
in their back-yard; and he noticed, as he had often 
noticed before, how one of its boughs was leafless 
and seemed to be stretching out, in a sorrowful, fumbling 
sort of way, towards their neighbour's fence, above which 
grew a sturdy lilac-bush, covered now with glossy heart- 
shaped leaves. 

On this occasion, however, for some unaccountable 
reason, the sight of this forlorn branch brought vividly to 
his mind the figure of Christie Malakile, as he had seen 
her that day, crouched in the castle-lane. And with that 
image there came to him as if a door had unexpectedly 
opened in the remotest wall of his mind's fortress a 
deep, sickening craving, it was hard to tell for what 
a craving that pierced him like the actual thrust of a 



340 JPOLF SOLENT 

spear. The bareness and tension of that extended branch 
had won his sympathy before; but today, as he rubbed 
the porridge-pot furiously with the greasy towel and 
emptied the hot kettle-water into it, the sight of the 
thing seemed to disturb the complacency of his whole 
being. 

A minute or two later, when he saw it again from the 
window of their small privy, which abutted upon the 
same back-yard, he got a sense of being hemmed in, 
burdened, besieged, while some vague, indistinct ap- 
peal, hard to define, was calling upon him for aid. 

He moved out to the foot of the staircase, and, with 
his hand upon the bannister, stood motionless, lost in 
strange thoughts. These glimpses of certain fixed objects, 
seen daily, yet always differently, through bedroom- 
windows, scullery-windows, privy-windows, had, from 
his childhood, possessed a curious interest for him. It 
was as if he got from them a sort of runic handwriting, 
the "little language" of Chance itself, commenting upon 
what was, and is, and was to come. As he stood there, 
he could hear Gerda moving about upstairs, and he hesi- 
tated as to whether to run up and speak to her, or to go 
out, as he generally did, without further farewell. 

He decided finally upon the latter course; something 
at the bottom of his mind, just then, making anything 
else seem strained and unnatural. Snatching up his oak- 
stick, therefore, he let himself out of the house with 
deliberate quietness, and walked with rapid steps down 
the road. 

His way to the Grammar School led him past the 
confectioner's shop; and at the sight of the name "Pirn- 



CHRISTIE 341 

pernel" over the door, he decided to run in for a mo- 
ment and see for himself if the particular tea-cakes that 
he had in mind were available that day. 

Not finding what he wanted, he was on the point of 
going out again, when he heard a familiar voice proceed- 
ing from the interior part of the shop. It was too late to 
retreat. He was already recognized; and in another 
second he found himself face to face with Mrs. Torp. 
Gerda's mother had been engaged in persuading old 
Ruth Pimpernel to sell her a loaf of yesterday's bread 
at half-price. 

Shaking hands vigorously with this uncongenial ap- 
parition, whose shrewish aspect was not modified by the 
dirty black bonnet she wore balanced on the top of her 
head, Wolf found himself propitiating the woman to 
the extreme limit of a somewhat unctuous geniality. 

He had often noticed that when his blood had been 
quickened by rapid walking, he had a tendency to exag- 
gerate his natural bonhomie to a degree that was almost 
fatuous. 

"You haven't come to see us for such a long while, Mrs. 
Torp," he cried. "Gerda and I can't get on without see- 
ing something of you. It's too ridiculous" so he blun- 
dered on, in complete disregard of the sly expression in 
Mrs. Torp's eyes, like the expression of a tethered dog 
leering at a hutch of tame hares "it's too ridiculous to 
have you in the same place and to see so little of you!" 

It was impossible even for the perspicacity of Joan 
Torp to put down this blustering friendliness to its true 
account to the pleasant glow, namely, diffused through 
Wolfs veins by his rapid walk; and so, with a nearer ap- 



342 WOLF SOLENT 

proach to a benevolent grimace than he had ever seen 
on her grim features, she assured him with unhesitating 
emphasis that she would, "as sure as us be standing here, 
Mr. Solent," drop in for tea that very afternoon at Pres- 
ton Lane. 

The appearance of the shop-girl with the stale loaf 
destined for the monument-maker's table Mr. Torp 
abominated stale bread prevented the woman from de- 
tecting the cloud that descended on Wolf's brow on 
receipt of this prompt acceptance of his hospitality. 
It was, indeed, only when he was hurrying out of the 
confectioner's shop that he had the wit to turn round and 
fling back a suggestion that if Mrs. Torp went over 
there, now at once, her daughter would be very pleased 
to see her. 

"I'll leave it to Gerda," he thought to himself. "She'll 
manage it somehow." 

His mind, however, remained all that morning, as 
he sat at his desk in the Grammar School fourth-form 
room, asking questions about Edward Longshanks, teas- 
ingly preoccupied with this encounter. 

"She may not go there at all," he thought. "It isn't 
her way to go there in the morning. They're so funny, 
those two, about their houses. Well, we must chance it 
and hope for the best!" 

And then, as he enlarged to his class upon that for- 
midable black sarcophagus in Westminster Abbey, with 
its grim inscription, the under-flow of his mind kept 
fretting against all the little incidents that had led to 
this annoying issue. 

"If I hadn't stayed so long at that confounded privy- 



CHRISTIE 343 

window, I should have got out of Pimpernel's before 
she came in. And if I'd stopped to say good-bye to 
Gerda, she'd have gone before I got there at all. Damn! 
It's like the rope, the water, the fire, the dog, and the 
old woman getting home from market." 

When his class was let out and he himself escaped into 
the street at half-past twelve, it occurred to him that 
it was curious how faint an impact upon his conscious- 
ness this business of teaching history made. He was clever 
enough to do the whole job with the surface of his mind. 
"What the devil do those boys think of me?" he won- 
dered grimly. "I forget their existence as soon as I'm out 
of sight of them." 

He met Darnley Otter, at that moment, issuing forth 
from his Latin lesson with a pile of papers in his hand. 

Darnley greeted him with more than his usual cor- 
diality; and as Wolf looked into his friend's strangely- 
coloured eyes, he felt that peculiar sensation of relief 
which men are wont to feel when they encounter each 
other after the confusion of sex-conflicts. 

Darnley laid his free hand on his friend's arm, and 
they moved down the street together; but for a while 
Wolf heard nothing of what he was saying, so occupied 
was he with a sudden question, gaping like a crack in a 
hot stubble-field in the very floor of his mind, that had 
just then obtruded itself. Was he really "in love," in 
the proper sense of that word, with his sweet bedfellow? 
"But very likely I could never be 'in love' in that sense 
with anyone," he said to himself as they walked along. 

And then he became aware that Darnley had been 
speaking to him for some while. 



344 WOLF SOLENT 

"I don't see why I shouldn't take you," he was saying 
now. "I would, like a shot, if she hadn't been so funny 
the other day when I talked about you. But I expect 
there's nothing in that! Perhaps you hurt her feelings in 
some way. She's a queer little oddity. I found that out 
long ago. One has to be awfully careful." 

These words, and other words before them, now be- 
gan to penetrate Wolf's consciousness, as they might 
have done with a person recovering from an anaesthetic. 

"Sorry," he muttered apologetically, standing stock- 
still on the pavement. "I wasn't listening." 

Darnley stroked his pointed beard and looked him up 
and down. 

"You're boy-drunk, poor devil," he murmured sym- 
pathetically. "It does take time to wear off. You're re- 
peating to yourself what you'd like to have retorted to 
Rintoul Minor when he made you feel a fool. I'm often 
like that myself." 

"No, I'm not," protested the other. "But what were 
you saying?" 

"Nothing very startling," said Darnley quietly, pulling 
him forward by the arm. "It's only I thought I'd take 
you with me to Christie's to lunch. Gerda won't mind, 
once in a way, will she?" 

Wolf drew his heavy eyebrows down so low that his 
startled gaze gleamed out at his companion like lantern- 
light from a thatched shed. "I ... don't . . . suppose 
so," he muttered hesitatingly. 

The truth was that Darnley's suggestion had set some- 
thing vibrating violently deep down within him, like the 



CHRISTIE 345 

thuds of a buried drum played by an earth-gnome. So 
this was what things had been tending to since he had 
caught sight of that laburnum-branch? 

Darnley smiled and shrugged his shoulders. 

"Don't say any more," he cried. "I see you don't want 
to come. Well! Off with you, then . . . back to your 
Saxon beauty. Christie's expecting me, anyway." 

But Wolf held him with an appeal in his eye. 

"It's only that Gerda and I have got special things 
to do today," he said. "Under ordinary conditions I'd 
have loved to come." 

Darnley looked at him gravely. "No bad news, I 
hope?" he said. 

Wolf was silent. All manner of queer fancies passed, 
like the shadows of rooks over a pond, across the surface 
of his brain. One thing particularly he found himself 
dwelling upon. "Didn't seem friendly to me, eh?" And 
he recalled the only two occasions on which he had seen 
Christie alone since his marriage. 

On both those occasions she had avoided all allusion 
to the day of the horse-show. But she had been self- 
possessed and natural, had laughed at his jests, had 
talked freely with him about Mattie, had not even drawn 
back from a passing reference to Olwen. And though her 
allusions to Gerda were faint and slight, they were 
friendly and sympathetic. But Wolf remembered well 
how he had experienced a profound astonishment at 
the abysses of pride and reserve into which this frail 
being had the power of retreating. 

"Gerda has been a bit surprised," he said at last, 



346 WOLF SOLENT 

observing that Darnley was growing impatient to be off, 
"that a friend like Christie hasn't been in to see us more 
often." 

His companion freed his sleeve from the nervous 
clutch with which Wolf quite unconsciously had seized 
it. 

"That's silly of Gerda," he said curtly. "She ought to 
understand Christie better than that. Christie never goes 
out to see people. People have to come and see her. Look 
here, Solent" and as he spoke, a gleam of boyish eager- 
ness came into his face "why don't you run back home 
now, have a bit of lunch, and then both you and Gerda 
come round to Christie's? I'll tell her you're coming. 
She'll keep some hot chocolate for you. She makes splen- 
did hot chocolate." 

Wolf hesitated. "We've got my mother coming to 
tea," he said. "And perhaps someone else too," he added, 
thinking of Mrs. Torp. 

"That's all right. There'll be plenty of time for that. 
It's not half-past two, anyway. Do go off now, there's a 
good chap; and be sure you bring Gerda." 

Wolf remained silent, uncertain, ill at ease, tapping 
the ground with his stick. 

"All right," he said at last. "I'll do as you say. We 
shan't be long over our lunch, that's certain. But make it 
plain to Christie that we're only coming for a very 
short time. Tell her we've got to get back to tea. That'll 
reassure her," he added sardonically, "if we get on 
her nerves." 

"Don't be an ass, Solent," was his friend's farewell- 
remark as they turned to go their different ways. 



CHRISTIE 347 

It took Wolf as a rule exactly twenty minutes to walk 
from the Grammar School gate to his own door; but this 
time he lengthened the way by debouching into Mon- 
mouth Street, where there were no shops and scarcely 
any traffic. 

The hot June sun was shining down almost perpendicu- 
larly on the warm, uneven cobblestones of this quiet 
alley, stones that left room for the occasional out-crop- 
ping of thin moss-soft blades of grass. Wolf walked 
along slowly, under the high brick wall which enclosed 
the pleasant garden of a certain Lawyer Gault, a remote 
relative of Selena's. He came to a spot where the 
branches of a tall lime-tree just inside the lawyer's gar- 
den threw a dreamy pattern of motionless shadows upon 
the stones at his feet. There he stood still, while those 
dark patterns upon the sunlit ground made that portion 
of the earth seem porous and insubstantial. And then 
again that drum-like beating in the depths of his heart 
brought up the vision of Christie Malakite, huddled and 
crouched, as he had seen her on the day of the Fair. 

Making no attempt this time to restrain his thoughts, 
he discovered, as he gave himself up to his mental dis- 
loyalty, a curious emotional phenomenon. He discovered 
that the peculiar glamour which had always hovered for 
him like a diaphanous cloud round the impersonal idea 
of girlhood, had concentrated itself upon the image of 
Christie. He plunged into a very strange aspect of his 
feelings, as he stood on those cobblestones and stared 
at those dark shadows. The thought of Gerda's warmth 
gave him a voluptuous thrill, direct, earthy, full of hon- 
est and natural desire. But he recognized now that there 



348 WOLF SOLENT 

hovered over the personality of this other girl something 
more subtle than this nothing less, in fact, than that 
evasive aura of mysterious girlishness the platonic idea, 
so to speak, of the mystery of all young girls, which was 
to him the most magical thing in the whole world. What 
had drawn him from the beginning to Gerda had been 
her wonderful beauty, and after that her original per- 
sonality, her childish character. He could see Gerda's 
face now, at this moment, before him he could catch 
the tones of her voice. He could feel how lovely she was, 
as he held her and caressed her. Christie's face, on the 
contrary, was all vague in his memory; her voice was 
vague; the touch of her hand was vague. It was hard to 
believe that he had ever had his arms about her. And 
yet it was Christie who had drawn into herself all those 
floating intimations of the mystery of a girl's soul, gath- 
ered here and there, like cowslips in green valleys, which 
were above everything so precious to him. 

The chatter of a couple of starlings that sank to the 
ground behind the wall, quarrelling and scolding, 
brought him at last to himself. He pulled down his straw- 
hat over his eyes and moved qff homewards. 

When he opened the door of Number Thirty-Seven, he 
found Gerda covered from head to foot in a print apron, 
her head bound up in a green scarf, brushing the floor 
of their parlour. 

"You can't come in now," she said, "unless you want 
to sit in the bedroom. I'll be doing the kitchen presently. 
It's no good your going in there." 

"Good Lord, child!" he expostulated, coughing and 
sneezing with exaggerated emphasis, as he propped up 



CHRISTIE 349 

his stick in its accustomed corner. "The place will be 
covered with dust! Why can't you let things alone? My 
mother would never have noticed whether the room was 
brushed or not. It'll take hours for all this to settle!" 

She rested on her great broom and surveyed him 
through her cloud of sun-illumined dust-motes. Under 
her gaze Wolf felt his actual body stiffen into a pose 
of clumsy awkwardness. He experienced a sense of hu- 
miliating self-consciousness. He felt like a fool, and a 
treacherous fool. The gaze she fixed upon him was the 
kind of gaze the Olympian dawn-goddess might have 
fixed upon her human lover at the moment when he 
first betrayed the tricky and shifty mortality of his race. 
He never altogether forgot that experience. It made a 
hole in his armour which never, to the end of his life, 
quite closed up. Henceforth, in all his thoughts of him- 
self, he had to allow for a weak and shaky spot in the 
very groundwork of his character a weakness that noth- 
ing short of the clairvoyance of a woman could ever 
have laid bare! 

"All right," he murmured stupidly. "I'll go wherever 
you want me to go, my dear." And when he found that 
she still watched him with a sort of pondering detach- 
ment, he made a hopeless effort to read her thoughts. 

Her look seemed to express resentment, superiority, 
irony; and yet there was tenderness in it too, and a sort 
of pitiful indulgence. It was one of those looks in which 
everything that is most obscure in the relation between 
two people rises to the surface and can find no expres- 
sion in human words. All he knew was that this look of 
hers let him off and did not let him off; though what 



350 WOLF SOLENT 

she could know of the vague, secret thoughts that had 
been his that day, he could not conceive! 

"I'll go anywhere you like, Gerda," he repeated 
lamely; and in order to break this spell, he took up a 
cloth duster she had laid on the back of a chair, and 
made a motion to dust the chimneypiece. 

She relaxed her reverie at this, and resumed her work 
without taking further notice of him. This enabled him 
to turn round again, and, with the duster still in his 
hand, watch furtively every one of her gestures. The 
apron she'd twisted so tightly about her body, the bit 
of green muslin she had tied so quaintly around her 
head, threw the whiteness of her skin and the softness 
of her flesh into extraordinary relief. She went on vigor- 
ously wielding the broom with her rounded arms, the 
movements which she made displaying the loveliness of 
her shoulders and the suppleness of her flanks, till Wolf 
began to forget everything except the voluptuous fas- 
cination of looking at her. 

This had not gone on very long before he became 
aware that she knew perfectly well exactly in what mood 
he was watching her. Every now and then she would 
straighten her body to rest her muscles, and then, as she 
lifted her hands to readjust the green muslin at the 
back of her head, the contours of her young breasts 
under the tight-fitting apron assumed the nobility of 
Pheidian sculpture. Whenever she did this she glanced 
at him under dreamy, abstracted eyelids, and she seemed 
to know well that what of all things he wanted most at 
that moment was just to make rough, reckless, self- 
obliterating love to her. And she seemed to know, too, 



CHRISTIE 351 

that if she let him do that, just then, some indescribable 
advantage she had won over him would be altogether 
lost. Across an unfathomable gulf she shot these glances 
at him, the thick dust-gendered sun-motes flashing and 
gyrating between them like the spilled golden sands of 
some great overturned hour-glass. 

Under the pressure of his conflicting feelings, Wolf's 
heart contracted within him; and the pride of his threat- 
ened life-illusion gathered about it, like broken bubbles 
of quicksilver gathering against the sides of a globe of 
crystal. 

At last, throwing down the duster, he sprang towards 
her, driven by the blind, unconscious cunning of a pred- 
atory animal and by sheer, exasperated desire. But the 
girl slipped away from him, laughing like a hunted 
oread, and, lifting her great broom between them, es- 
caped round the edge of the parlour-table, from which 
she had removed the cloth. Red in the face now, and 
breathing hard and fast, he pursued her obstinately; and 
they both ran, panting and hot, round and round that 
polished expanse of wood, that mocked him like a shin- 
ing shield. In her flight she dropped the broom, and he 
in his clumsy pursuit stumbled and almost fell over it. 

Then he gave up; because, in a single flash of the 
dark-lantern of his self-esteem, he saw this whole inci- 
dent between them just as Bob Weevil would have seen 
it, had he been pressing his inquisitive face against their 
window-pane. But as they stood there, stock-still, panting 
like two animals and staring at each other across the 
polished wood, it came into his head that if there had 
been nothing more subtle than that table between them, 



352 WOLF SOLENT 

this game of theirs would have been full of a rich de- 
light for both of them, Bob Weevil or no Bob Weevil! 

Heavily he drew his breath, watching the tiny drops 
of perspiration on her forehead, and her panting bosom. 
"She's a complete stranger to me!" he said to himself, 
with a puzzled sigh. 

"You'll never catch me like that, Wolf," gasped Gerda, 
with a melodious chuckle; "so you'd better give up and 
admit you're beaten." 

But he thought to himself: "She thinks she's acting 
the naughty child. She thinks she's ruffled my dignity. 
She thinks I'm a pompous ass, who can't play naturally 
with a girl in that sort of way." He moved from the table, 
and, throwing himself into -a wicker-chair, lit a cigarette. 
"But I could, I could," he thought, "if only oh, damn 
all this business of loving girls! It's getting out of my 
control; it's getting too much for me!" 

Through their open window came the clear, ringing 
notes of the thrush in the ash-tree, along with that curi- 
ous scent of honeysuckle mixed with pigs' dung which 
was their familiar atmosphere. She, too, heard the thrush, 
and, balancing the broom against a chair, walked to the 
window and leaned against -the side of it, her profile 
toward him. 

"What would I feel," he said to himself, "if she started 
whistling her blackbird-song now?" 

But Gerda displayed no desire for whistling. Her face 
looked pale and a little sad; and leaning there, with 
her forehead resting upon one of her bare arms as it lay 
along the woodwork of the window, she seemed to be 
lost in concentrated thought. 



CHRISTIE 353 

Wolf felt a sudden longing to go across to her and 
comfort her comfort her about those errant feelings of 
his own that it was impossible to believe she had inter- 
cepted in their secret passage through his brain! He 
couldn't, surely, at that moment, announce to her Darn- 
ley's plan? 

What he actually did was neither to go up to her nor 
to tell her about the projected visit. He rose to his feet, 
and said abruptly: "Well! What about lunch, my dear?" 

At this remark she lifted up her head from her arm 
with a jerk, dropped her hand to her side, and, giving 
him one quick look of unspeakable reproach, went out 
without a word into the kitchen. 

"Damn!" he thought to himself. "She can't be a witch! 
She can't have the power to read a person's thoughts! 
Besides, what did I think? Nothing beyond what every- 
one thinks sometimes; wild, crazy, outrageous nonsense! 
It must be her mother. That old trot must have come 
round, after all." 

He resumed his seat in the wicker-chair; but he felt 
too miserable even to light a cigarette. 

His obscure distress swathed every one of the thrush's 
notes with a thick soot-coloured wrapping, so that they 
flapped at him like so many black flags. On the gusts 
of hedge-scent and ditch-scent his discomfort rose and 
fell, rocking him up and down in swart desolation. 

"I wish I'd gone straight up to her at the window 
just now," he said to himself. "I can't bear to have her 
looking like that. Christ saw a man under a fig-tree, or 
whatever it was; and I suppose a girl can see a man 
under a lime-tree and read his thoughts like a map!" 



354 WOLF SOLENT 

He threw off his gloom as well as he could, and walked 
slowly into the kitchen. There he found her absent- 
mindedly laying the table for a meal of bread and cheese. 
He mechanically started helping her, getting out the 
knives and forks from the dresser-drawer and uncorking 
a bottle of beer. 

When the meal was ready she untied her apron, re- 
moved the muslin from her head, washed her hands at 
the sink, and then, instead of taking her place opposite 
him, stood wavering and helpless in the middle of the 
room. 

"I think I'll go out for a breath of air," she an- 
nounced. "I must have swallowed too much dust. I'm 
not hungry." 

Wolf had already taken his seat; and, as she spoke, 
instead of moving away from him, as her remark sug- 
gested, she made a queer little helpless movement to- 
wards him. This time he did know what to do. He jumped 
up and sprang towards her, and hugged her tightly to his 
heart, overcoming her weak resistance, pressing her 
cheek, now quickly wet with tears, against his own. They 
remained thus for some seconds, with their arms round 
each other, but without a word, leaving the parlour- 
clock and the incorrigible thrush to deal as they pleased 
with the passing of time. 

At length he withdrew his clasp, and, making her sit 
down at the table, filled her glass with foaming ale. 

The mellowness of the drink, combined with the ob- 
vious sincerity of his embrace, seemed to drive away the 
unhappy mood that obsessed her. She turned to the meal 



CHRISTIE 355 

before them and began eating with relish. As they ate 
they talked quietly of what they would prepare for his 
mother's tea. Wolf found it wise at present to say nothing 
of Mrs. Torp. 

When they were satisfied, however, and after he had 
handed her a cigarette for it always amused him to 
see the childishly incompetent way Gerda smoked he 
plunged boldly into the matter of their visit to the book- 
seller's shop. With one part of his heart he wished this 
project at the devil; but he said to himself it would be 
absurd to disappoint Darnley. 

"If you're willing not to wash up and not to dress 
till we get back, we could easily go for just an hour. 
We really owe Christie a visit; and Darnley's being there 
makes an excuse." 

"Why ought we to go to Christie's? She ought to come 
and see us!" 

"Gerda, you know how it is! You know what she's 
like. Besides, we've only asked her that once, when Bob 
and Lobbie were here. Let's go now ; there's a dear girl ! 
We'll have plenty of time to get cleaned up before tea." 

Gerda seemed to struggle with herself for a moment; 
and then she yielded with the most charming grace. 
"All right," she said, getting up; "only we must run 
in to Pimpernel's on the way." 

Wolf's spirits rose high as they left the house. He 
chuckled sardonically in his heart at his own elation. 
"The truth must be," he said to himself, "that I'm simply 
infatuated with both of them that I want to snatch at 
Christie and yet not lose my hold on my sweet Gerda." 



356 WOLF SOLENT 

The sight of the shop-girl in Pimpernel's, however, 
brought down his happiness a great many pegs. He had 
completely forgotten Mrs. Torp. 

But he said nothing till they were well out of the shop, 
and well on their way down High Street. Then he be- 
gan: "Oh, I met your mother this morning, Gerda. We 
talked a bit, and I can't remember how it came about, but 
she went off finally with the idea that I'd asked her to 
tea this afternoon. And I'm* afraid I didn't mention to her 
that my mother's coming; so we'd better be prepared 
for her turning up." 

The effect of this information was startling. Gerda 
drew her arm away from him and stopped dead-still 
where they were, which was in front of a butcher's shop; 
and they let the afternoon marketers jostle past them 
unheeded. 

"You . . . have asked . . . Mother ... to tea!" she 
gasped; and he was staggered at the dismay upon her 
face. 

"Well?" he said, pulling her into the butcher's porch 
to avoid the crowd. "It won't be so very awful, will 
it? My mother can be adaptable and decent enough at a 
pinch." 

Gerda looked at him with such flashing eyes that he 
drew back as if she had hit him. 

"Are you mad, Wolf?" she whispered hoarsely. "I 
can't understand you today! What's the matter with you? 
You rush off without a word this morning. You come 
back looking as if you'd met a ghost. You drag me out 
here to see your friend, who wants me no more than a 
cat! And now this, on the top of everything! It's too 



CHRISTIE 357 

much! I tell you it's too much! I'm going home." And 
suiting her action to her words, she broke away from 
him and began rapidly retracing her steps. 

Wolf ran after her and caught her by the arm. 

"Gerda! Gerda darling!" he cried, regardless of the 
people who were passing them. "I can't bear this. Let 
me come back with you. I don't care a damn about 
seeing Christie!" 

"I won't have you come with me, Wolf. I won't! I 
won't! Do you want me to make a scene in the street? 
Go to Christie's, I tell you! That's where you belong. 
I've known you wanted to go to her ever since she came 
that day with the boys. Go! Go! Go! I worit have you 
with me!" And she started off almost at a run, her face 
white and her eyes dazed and staring. 

Wolf remained motionless and stood watching her 
while long minutes passed over his head. It seemed im- 
possible that that should be his Gerda, going off in a 
rage! But even as he stood hesitating, her figure dis- 
appeared among the people. 

He turned wearily round then and resumed his walk 
down the street in absent-minded gloom. He hardly knew 
what he was doing; but he had a vague idea of wander- 
ing about the streets for a time, and then returning to 
Preston Lane. His feet carried him, however, steadily on 
till he found himself opposite the bookseller's shop. 

"In for a penny, in for a pound," he said to himself. 
And then the thoughts which he believed at that moment 
were what dominated his action formed themselves in his 
brain into some such words as these: "I've absolutely no 
heart for seeing Christie now, or Darnley either! But I 



358 WOLF SOLENT 

suppose it would be an absurd piling up of misunder- 
standings if I disappointed them." 

Grasping the handle of his stick tightly in his hand, 
and seeing Gerda's stricken face and wild, tearless stare 
in the very midst of the doorway, he entered the shop. 

He found the old man amidst a pile of books, mur- 
muring with bent head over a volume bound in vellum, 
which he was showing to a customer, evidently a stranger 
to the place. Mr. Malakite did not hear him enter, and 
Wolf found himself looking with a queer interest at that 
bowed back and grizzled head. What did it feel like, as 
the days went on, to know that one possessed, only five 
miles away, a child like Olwen, the daughter of a daugh- 
ter? Did the old man ever see Olwen? Did he know 
anything of the child's thoughts? Did he want to know 
anything? A chance movement made by the customer 
brought Wolf now into the bookseller's vision. A startled 
look passed for a second over the old man's face, but he 
betrayed no other sign of embarrassment. 

"Good-afternoon, Mr. Solent," he said quietly. "Have 
you come to see me or to see Miss Malakite?" And then, 
without wailing for an answer: "You'll find her in the 
room upstairs. Mr. Otter has just gone." 

Wolf passed through the shop, and, hurriedly run- 
ning up the little staircase, knocked at Christie's door. 
The effect upon him of this unexpected news of Darnley's 
departure was something beyond what he could possibly 
have foreseen. The stricken face of Gerda vanished com- 
pletely, and Gerda herself became what his mother was, 
or what Miss Gault was, or what his father's grave was 
one of the fixed landmarks in his life's landscape, but 



CHRISTIE 359 

no longer the centre of his life. That hidden drum, which 
was neither exactly in his heart nor exactly in the pit of 
his stomach, beat so loudly as he waited at Christie's 
door, that it seemed as if that oblong shape of discol- 
oured wood, the very markings of which were voluble, 
were ready to open now upon something completely new 
to his experience. That word of the old man, "Mr. Otter 
has gone," kept repealing itself in his mind as he waited. 
"Mr. Otter has gone. Mr. Otter has gone." The phrase 
became a floating cloud of tremulous expectation. 

When Christie did open the door, and they had taken 
each other's hand, Wolf felt as if he had been doing 
nothing all his life but wait for this moment. He had 
the feeling that the man and girl who now proceeded 
to utter broken and fragmentary commonplaces to each 
other were acting as automatic figures behind whose 
gestures two long-separated spirits were rushing to- 
gether. 

Several seconds passed before Christie had the power 
to make a move to find a chair for herself or to give a 
sign for him to be seated; but when he did sink down 
at last, still talking of anything that came into his head, 
a sense of such relief swept into his soul that it was as if 
some spear-head, that had been in his flesh without his 
knowing it, for days and weeks, had suddenly been 
pulled out. 

And then, without the least disturbance of the at- 
mosphere of that small room, he suddenly found that 
those two nodding masks had vanished into thin air, 
and that there was no barrier of any sort left between the 
real Wolf and the real Christie. Naturally and easily he 



360 WOLF SOLENT 

found himself taking for granted this strange new dis- 
covery of what was between them. He thought within 
himself: "She knows everything. I'll leave everything 
to her." And he suddenly discovered that he was talking 
freely and openly about all the people of his life, and 
about Gerda, too. He discovered that to talk to Christie 
was like talking to himself or thinking aloud. And he 
recalled how he had been struck, the very first time they 
met, by this ease and naturalness with which the light- 
est thought flowed back and forth between them. 

And all the while, even as he was whimsically telling 
her about the unlucky tea-party arranged for that after- 
noon, the contour of her half-averted face bending over 
a piece of needlework she had blindly taken up, and the 
way her instep looked with the thin leather strap of her 
shoe across it, gave him a sensation completely different 
from anything he had ever known before. What he really 
felt was that this was the first feminine creature with 
whom he had ever been left alone. In comparison with 
this diffused and thrilling feeling, permeating every- 
thing around them, his amorousness for Gerda seemed 
like playful lust, directed toward some beautiful statue. 
The slender little figure before him, with those thin 
hands and those touchingly thin legs, drew into her per- 
sonality, at that moment, every secret of girlhood that 
had ever troubled him. Coming to him like the fragrance 
of wood-mosses to a city-dweller, the consciousness that 
this dreamlike figure was really alive and tangible 
seemed to melt his bones within him. Those mystic syl- 
lables, "a girl," "a young girl," had always remained 
at the back of his mind like a precious well-watered 



CHRISTIE 361 

flower-bed, but a bed empty of any living growth. Noth- 
ing, he now knew, in his life with Gerda had stirred 
the earth of that mystic bed. But here, in the centre of 
that bed, was a living, breathing plant, making every- 
thing around it enchanted and transparent by the dif- 
fused loveliness of its presence. This passive entity in 
front of him, with her honey-pale oval face, her long 
eyelashes, her thin legs, her faintly outlined childish 
figure, was the only true, real, actual living girl in all 
the earth. 

The minutes slipped by, and Wolf found himself, to 
his surprise, even talking to her about Olwen. So far 
from this extraordinary topic agitating her, she seemed 
to find a deep relief in speaking of it. 

"Were you old enough to realize what was going on 
between them?" Wolf asked her at last. 

Christie nodded her head and smiled a little. "The 
odd thing is," she said gently, "that there never seemed 
to me anything strangely unnatural in it. I don't think 
Mother ever was the right person for Father. I think 
from her earliest childhood there was a peculiar link 
between him and my sister." 

"But it killed your mother, didn't it?" murmured 
Wolf. 

Christie was silent for a moment, a queer, pondering 
frown on her face. 

"I don't think so," she said in a low voice. "Everyone 
said so; but I don't believe it. I think it had begun long 
before that. It wasn't she who did it." 

These last words were hardly audible. 

Wolf pressed her. 



362 WOLF SOLENT 

"Who did it, then?" 

Christie looked at him gravely. 

"Do you believe in spirits?" she asked. 

He laughed a little. 

"Oh, no more than in anything else!" he said. 

"My mother was Welsh," she went on. "She used to 
tell us the wildest stories about her ancestors. Once she 
actually told us she was descended from Merlin. Merlin's 
mother was a nun. Did you know that, Wolf?" 

"No wonder you're a bit inhuman," he said. And 
then, after a pause: "Did you and your sister write to 
each other after they sent her away? Was she unhappy 
about 01 wen?" 

Christie's brown eyes became for a minute fixed upon 
vacancy, as if she were scrutinizing some far-away men- 
tal image. When she turned them upon him, however, 
they had an angry and yet humorous gleam. 

"I sent her money to come back," she said. "I would 
have had her here in spite of them. Her last letter 
I'll show it to you one day was full of excitement. If 
I'd been as old as I am now, they should never have 
sent her away." 

"Did Selena Gault do it?" asked Wolf. 

The girl nodded. "She and Mr. Smith. They had the 
law on their side." She paused and drew a long breath. 
"Law or no law," she cried, passionately, with flushed 
cheeks, "if I'd been older I'd have stopped them! I was 
too young," she added. 

Wolf got up from his seat and stood regarding her. 
Every aspect of her figure, every flicker upon her face, 
gave him the feeling that he was regarding a young 



CHRISTIE 363 

aspen-tree, porous to wind-blown alternations of light 
and shadow. 

"It's wonderful to be able to talk freely to anyone as 
I can with you . . . now we're alone." 

"I sent Darnley away," was all she said. 

These words of hers hung suspended in the air be- 
tween them. They were so sweet to Wolf that he felt 
unwilling to make the least response. He just allowed 
them to evaporate, syllable by syllable, into the mid- 
summer warmth of that pleasant room. Christie's eye- 
lids drooped over the piece of sewing she held in her 
hands, and he noticed that she was turning this strip of 
muslin over and over between her fingers, smoothing it 
out upon her lap, first one side and then the other. The 
poignancy of her shyness increased his awareness of the 
suspense between them; and to loosen the spell he turned 
his head a little and glanced at the mantelpiece, on which 
was a china bowl, full of bluebells, late, long-stalked 
primroses, and pink campions and meadow-orchids. His 
own mind kept beating itself against the unknown 
against that fatal next moment which drew to itself the 
dust-motes of the air, the scent of the wild-flowers, the 
warm wind blowing in through the open window. 

"Will she let me make love to her? Will she let me?" 
was the burden of his thought; and as he stared at that 
bunch of flowers, especially at one solitary bluebell that 
hung down over the brim of the white bowl and had 
gathered a tinge of faint rose-carmine upon its hyacin- 
thine bloom, he felt as though the "to be or not to be" 
of that tense moment depended upon chance as inscru- 
table, as fluctuating, as the light, falling this way, falling 



364 WOLF SOLENT 

that way light and shadow wavering together upon 
that purple-blue at the bowl's edge. 

Never had he been more aware of the miracle of 
flower-petals, of the absolute wonder of this filmy vege- 
table fabric, so much older, just as it is so much more 
lovely, in the history of our planet than the flesh of beasts 
or the feathers of birds or the scales of fishes! 

The girl's words, "I sent Darnley away," seemed to 
melt into that wild-flower bunch she had picked and 
placed there; and the pallor of the primroses, the peril- 
ous, arrowy faintness of their smell, became his desire 
for her; and the rough earth-mould freedom of the 
campion-stalks, with their wood-sturdy pink buds, be- 
came the lucky solitude she had made for him! 

"Will she let me make love to her?" The longing 
to risk the first movement toward his purpose strug- 
gled now in his mind with that mysterious restraint, so 
tenuous and yet so strong, of the girl's obscure embar- 
rassment. 

"Did you pick those flowers yesterday?" he broke out 
suddenly; and he was secretly surprised at the loudness 
of his own voice. 

"The day before," she murmured; and then, without 
closing her mouth, which, with the droop of her under- 
lip, took on an almost vacant look, she frowned a little, 
as she fixed her steady gaze full upon him. 

His own eyes plunged once more into the green- 
shadowed depths of that midsummer nosegay. Its pale 
primroses seemed to sway, in the wind, over their crum- 
pled leaves, as they would have done where she had 
actually picked them among the wood-rubble and the 



CHRISTIE 365 

fungus-growths of their birthplace. The moist bluebell- 
stalks, so full of liquid greenness beneath their heavy 
blooms, seemed to carry his mind straight into the hazel- 
darkened spaces where she had found them. These also 
belonged to the embarrassment of that figure beside him. 
These also, with the cool greenery of the sturdy cam- 
pions, were the very secret of that "next moment," 
which floated now, with the mocking sun-motes, un- 
touched and virginal in the air about them. 

Wolf knew well enough the peculiar limitations of 
his own nature. He knew well enough that any great 
surge of what is called "passion" was as impossible to 
him as was any real remorse about making love. What 
he felt was an excitement that trembled on the margin 
on the fluctuating fine edge between amorous desire 
for the slim frame of this mysterious girl and the thrill- 
ing attraction of unexplored regions in her soul. 

His feeling was like a brimming stream between reedy 
banks, where a wooden moss-covered dam prevents any 
spring-flood, but where the water, making its way round 
the edge of the obstacle, bends the long, submerged 
grasses before it, as it sweeps forward. 

Two images troubled him just a little Gerda's white, 
tense face as it had looked when she left him on the 
street, and, with this, a vague uncomfortable memory of 
the figure on the Waterloo steps. But, in his intensely 
heightened consciousness of this "suspended" moment, 
he deliberately steered the skiff of his thought away from 
both those reefs. 

Suddenly he found himself risen from his seat and 
standing against the mantelpiece! He lifted the flowers 



366 WOLF SOLENT 

to his face; and then, putting down the bowl, he inserted 
his fingers in it, pressing them down between the stalks 
into the water. He noticed that the water felt warm to 
his touch, like the water of a sun-warmed pool; and the 
fantastic idea came into his head that by making this 
gesture he was in some occult way invading the very 
soul of the girl who had arranged them there. Christie 
may or may not have read his thoughts. At any rate, he 
now became aware that she was standing beside him, 
and with deft, swift touches was correcting the rough 
confusion he had made in her nosegay. 

"The bluebell-scent is the one that dominates," he 
murmured. "You smell them, and see if I'm not right!" 

As she leaned forward, he allowed his hand to slide 
caressingly down her side, drawing her slender body, 
with a scarcely perceptible pressure, against his own. 

His heart was beating fast now, and a delicious pred- 
atory thrill was shivering through his nerves. Christie 
made not the least attempt to extricate herself from his 
caresses. She permitted him to bend her slim body this 
way and that way in his wanton excitement. But when 
he kissed her, she bent her neck so far round that it was 
her cheek and not her lips he kissed; and soon after 
that she slipped away from him and sank down exhausted 
in her former seat. 

The look she gave him now, as they stared at each 
other, confused and out of breath, was completely in- 
scrutable to him. 

"You're not annoyed with me, Christie?" he panted. 

There was a flicker of anger in her eyes at this. 

"Of course not," she answered, "What do you take 



CHRISTIE 367 

me for? I'm not as mean as that. I'm not a puritanical 
fool." 

"Well, then . . . well, then?" he muttered, approach- 
ing her chair and standing over her. 

"I'm not one least bit annoyed with you," she re- 
pealed. 

The faint flush that had now appeared in her cheeks, 
and the complicated wistfulness of her expression, dis- 
armed and enchanted him. He stooped down to her and 
stroked with the tips of his fingers the white blue-veined 
skin under her lace wristbands; but as he looked at her 
now, there was a certain virginal detachment about her 
thin ankles and about those lace-ruffled hands which 
irritated and provoked him by its inhuman remote- 
ness. 

"You puzzle me completely," he remarked, returning 
rather awkwardly to his former seat and surveying her 
with a humorous frown. 

She lifted up her head from her work. "Well? Why 
not? We haven't known each other very long." 

Her words released his pent-up irritation. 

"You make me feel funny, Christie," he said. "As if 
we'd lost each other in a wood." 

She held her head very high at this and her eyes grew 
defiant. 

"I know I'm no good at these things, Wolf. I never 
have been. Girls arc supposed to carry off moments like 
this. I don't know how they do it. I seem to be completely 
lacking in that sort of tact." 

His irritation increased as he found it impossible to 
follow her thought. 



368 WOLF SOLENT 

"Tact?" he re-echoed sarcastically. "Good Lord! Tact 
is the last thing I want from you." 

She spoke gravely now, but with evident vexation. 

"What's the use of talking like this, Wolf? It's grow- 
ing only too clear that we don't understand each 
other." 

His only retort to this was once more to murmur the 
word "tact" with a grim iteration. 

Her brown eyes looked really angry now. 

"Why are men so stupid?" she cried. "When I said 
that, I meant pretending something that wasn't my real 
self. It's because I've been absolutely natural with you 
that you've got angry with me." 

They were both silent after this, and Wolf stared at 
the half-open window, through which the summer wind 
was blowing into the room in little, eddying gusts. 
Christie took up her sewing; and the stir of her thin 
fingers and the waving of the light curtains were the only 
movements in that flower-scented air. 

By slow degrees, as he surreptitiously watched her, 
the harmony of his mind began to come back; and with 
this harmony there came in upon him from all that 
green West Country landscape stretching away toward 
the Severn on one side and toward the Channel on the 
other, a sort of dumb, inarticulate reproach. What were 
they doing, he and this girl, who were, as he well divined, 
so exquisitely adapted to understand each other, letting 
themselves be divided by such straws, such puffballs 
of difference? 

From fading cuckoo-flowers by the banks of the Lunt, 
from brittle mother-of-pearl shells, wet and glittering, 



CHRISTIE 369 

on the Weymouth sands, from the orange-speckled bel- 
lies of great newts in Lenty Pond, there came to him, be- 
tween those waving curtains, a speechless protest. Brief 
was his life . . . brief was Christie Malakite's life. . . . 
Times like this at best would be rare. He could see him- 
self returning to his tea-party and letting it all go! He 
could see Christie pouring out tea for her father and 
letting it all go! Perhaps such was his pride and such 
was hers this June afternoon, which might have been, 
but for this trivial discord, as perfect as a green bough, 
would stand out in his memory peeled and jagged, its 
sap all running out, its leaves drooping. 

"Forgive me, Christie," he said gravely. "Please for- 
give me and don't think any more about it." 

The girl looked up from her work, her hands folded 
in her lap. 

"You don't mean," she said slowly, "because of that?" 

Her nod of the head in the direction of the mantel- 
piece, where he had first caressed her, made clear to him 
what her words implied. 

He got up from his chair and stood in front of her, 
looking down at her lifted face. 

"No," he said. "I didn't mean because of 'that.' I 
meant because we misunderstood each other; which was 
all my fault." 

Christie began to smile. "I'm not prudish or unfeeling 
in things like that," she said. "But I've a queer nature, 
Wolf. I love the romance of being in love, and I like 
you, Wolf, better than anyone I've ever met; and I like 
you to make love to me. It's only . . . it's only that 
with the life I've had and the mother I had I seem to 



370 WOLF SOLENT 

have none of an ordinary girl's feelings in these things." 

Wolf began pacing up and down the room. 

"I'm queer myself, Christie," he said after a pause, 
stopping once more in front of her. "So there we are! It 
appears that we're a fair pair! And if you want to know 
what I feel at this moment, I'll tell you. I feel deliciously 
happy. You are a witch, Christie, and I don't wonder 
your mother maintained she was descended from Mer- 
lin. I feel I could tell you every secret thought I have in 
the world. And so, by God, I will! It's an incredible 
chance that I should have found you." 

He threw his cigarette into the fire and walked to the 
window. 

"What a view you've got here!" he said. "That's the 
corner of Babylon Hill, isn't it?" 

The window was already open at the top; but he 
pulled it down as far as it would go, and leaned out of 
it, looking across the entanglement of slate roofs to the 
green incline beyond. 

"The wind's northeast, isn't it?" he remarked. 

She got up and came over to him and stood beside 
him, and presently he felt her fingers slip into his own. 

"North-northeast," she said; and these words, when 
he thought of them afterwards, brought back every 
flicker of his feelings, as he stood stiffly there clutching 
her hand. 

"Where does that lane go?" he asked. "Do you see 
what I mean? That narrow little one below those Scotch 
firs." 

"Over there?" the girl questioned. "To the left of 
Poll's Camp, do you mean?" 



CHRISTIE 371 

"Yes . . . there . . . just there . . . where that clump 
of bushes is!" 

"That's Gwent Lane," she answered. "And it leads to 
a whole maze of lanes further on. I'm fond of going 
to the Gwent Lanes. You hardly ever meet anyone there. 
It's as if they had been designed to keep traffic away and 
strangers away. Sometimes on Summer days when Father 
doesn't want me, I take my lunch and a book and stay 
in the Gwent Lanes all day. I often never meet a 
soul." 

She was silent for a second or two; and he realized 
that a crowded mass of personal memories was flowing 
through her mind. 

"Some lovely afternoons I've had," she went on, "sit- 
ting with my back to a gate and looking at the hedge- 
parsley. When the corn's-yellow and the poppies are out, 
I always sit inside the field, with my parasol over my 
book. I can smell the peculiar bitter smell now of the 
elder-leaves behind me." 

She drew her fingers away from him and made of her 
two hands a support for her chin upon the woodwork 
of the open window. Wolf thought this chin of hers was 
the smallest he had ever seen. He, too, remained silent, 
thinking of similar memories of his own, secret and soli- 
tary and personal; and he was astonished to note how 
natural it seemed to both of them, this deliberate indul- 
gence in egoistic recollections. 

"North-northeast, did you say?" His voice sounded 
irrelevant even to his own ears. In some queer way he 
felt as if he had been sharing these furtive physical 
memories with the girl at his side. He even felt as if their 



372 WOLF SOLENT 

having shared them had been a kind of love-making 
more subtle and delicate than any erotic dalliance. 

He felt as if he could share with this elfin creature 
a thousand feelings that no other person could possibly 
understand share with her all those profoundly physi- 
cal sensations and yet mystical, too that made up the 
real undercurrent of his whole life. 

"She would understand my 'mythology,' " he said to 
himself. "No one but she would; no one!" And then he 
thought: "I believe my life is going to open out now, as 
if I really had some invisible tutelary Power directing 
me!" 

They turned away simultaneously from the window, 
and once more sat down. 

"Do you ever feel," he said, "as if one part of your 
soul belonged to a world altogether different from this 
world as if it were completely disillusioned about all 
the things that people make such a fuss over and yet 
were involved in something thai was very important?" 

She looked straight into his face. "I wouldn't put it 
like that," she said. "But I've always known what it was 
to accept an enormous emptiness round me, echoing and 
echoing, and I sitting there in the middle, like a paper- 
doll reflected in hundreds of mirrors." 

Wolf screwed up his eyes and bit his under-lip. 

"You haven't been as happy in your mind as I've 
been in my mind," he said with a kind of wistfulness; 
"but I often feel as if I were unfairly privileged . . . 
as if some invisible god were unjustly favouring me ... 
quite beyond my deserts." 

"I don't think you're as favoured as you fancy you 



CHRISTIE 373 

are," said Christie, with the ghost of a smile. But Wolf 
went on: 

"Do you know, Chris, I think I'm especially favoured 
in my scepticism. I'm sceptical about the reality of every- 
thing; even about the reality of Nature. Sometimes I 
think that there are several 'Natures' . . . several 'Uni- 
verses,' in fact . . . one inside the other . . . like Chi- 
nese boxes. . . ." 

"I know what you mean," said the young girl hur- 
riedly; and her eyes, as she looked at him, grew luminous 
with that indescribable excitement of mental sympathy 
that can bring tears from something deeper than pas- 
sion. 

Wolf, as he received this intimation, said to himself: 
"I can think aloud with her. Perhaps one day I'll tell 
her about my 'mythology'!" And there came over him, 
like a warm enveloping under-tide in which great crim- 
son seaweeds were swaying, an unutterable sense of hap- 
piness. "Oh, I hope Gerda is all right!" he thought. 
And then, with a concentrated effort of his will, as if he 
were addressing a host of servile genii: "I command that 
Gerda shall be all right!" 

It occurred to him at that moment, with a humorous 
force, that his father wouldn't have been a man to 
allow such scruples as these to impinge upon his mind 
at such a juncture. 

"Had you any idea," he said suddenly, "that Mattie 
wasn't Albert Smith's child?" 

"I soon saw the likeness to you, anyway," Christie re- 
plied evasively, "the first day Father brought you to see 
me." 



374 WOLF SOLENT 

"I like Mattie so much," he went on; "but her resem- 
blance to me can't be said to improve her looks. Has 
anyone ever made love to her, do you think?" 

Christie laughed. "Well, you must be nice to her, any- 
way, Wolf dear, to make up in case they haven't." 

"I should be afraid of Miss Gault's sending her off to 
Australia!" he said with a chuckle, and then felt curi- 
ously relieved to find that the grossness of this rather 
clumsy jest did not shock his companion. "Nothing 
shocks her," he said to himself; and his mind took a 
long flight to his years in London, where, except for 
his mother, there was no one to whom he could have 
talked as he had done this afternoon. 

"Well, I must be off," he said, rather wearily, when 
these thoughts had finished their circle and had sunk 
down in the manner of birds on a bough. "I've got an 
uncomfortable home-coming before me, what with one 
thing and another." 

"Don't make too much of it," she said, opening the 
door for him and holding both handles of it with her 
hands, so as to avoid any definite farewell. "Gerda will 
be so thankful to have got through it, that when your 
two mothers leave she'll be radiant again." 

"I hope she won't be too radiant before they leave," 
retorted Wolf grimly. "I don't want many repetitions of 
this particular tea-party." 

She kept the door open till he was half-way down- 
stairs, and they nodded rather dolorously at each other 
across the banisters. He heard the door shut as he en- 
tered the shop below, and a pang passed through him. 



CHRISTIE 375 

As he walked rapidly home, he found himself en- 
gaged in an imaginary dialogue with his father. 

The skeleton under those obstinate plantains kept 
grinning mockingly in reply to every argument. "Life is 
short," said the skeleton, "and the love of girls is the 
only escape from its miseries." 

"It's not so short as all that," retorted the son, "and 
in every Paradise there is a snake!" 



THE TEA-PARTY 



E FOUND ON HIS ARRIVAL THAT HIS MOTHER HAD AL- 

ready appeared. To his great surprise he discovered her 
standing by their kitchen-stove, with Gerda's apron over 
her dress, helping to make the toast. He was still more 
surprised at the way Gerda received him. She was flushed 
and happy laughing and jesting as if they had parted 
the very best of friends. 

"How's Christie?" she asked casually. "What do you 
think, Mrs. Solent, of his going off to see Miss Malakite 
when I've got company? I'm sure that's not what you'd 
approve of." 

"I don't approve of his saying nothing about that 
pretty frock you've got on! What do you think of it, 
Wolf? Do you know, when I got here, she was upstairs, 
crying her lovely eyes out? And all because she thought 
she hadn't a proper dress to welcome her grand mother- 
in-law in! We soon settled that little job, didn't we, my 
dear?" And Wolf beheld, to his amazement, his mother 
putting one of her strong arms caressingly about Gerda's 
waist, and Gerda responding to this with a linger- 
ing, provocative glance, such as he himself was wont 
to receive when the girl was in her most docile 
mood. 

"I heard her crying up there in her room," went on 
the elder woman, "and I ran straight up, and there she 
was, pretty as a picture in her white shift, and all the 
bed covered with frocks! She says she's had this one 



THE TEA-PARTY 377 

since she was sixteen; but it suits her perfectly, doesn't 
it, Wolf?" 

Wolf surveyed the girl gravely. She wore a long, 
straight muslin dress, with short sleeves, creamy-white 
and covered with pale little roses. Never had she looked 
so enchanting. 

"You're certainly a good lady's-maid, Mother," he 
said solemnly. 

"She's told me you're expecting another mother this 
afternoon," continued Mrs. Solent, releasing Gerda and 
proceeding to arrange the slices of toast upon a plate. 
"Now then, where's that loaf? I'll cut the bread-and- 
butter." 

It became Wolf's destiny to stand for the next quarter 
of an hour, figuratively speaking, "upon one leg," while 
he watched what seemed to resemble the most piquant 
of flirtations going on between these two. 

The tea-tray was "laid" at last, in the most approved 
manner, on that very parlour-table round which he had 
pursued the girl in such troubled agitation so short a 
time before; and Mrs. Solent, Gerda's apron removed, 
showed herself in the most fashionable of all her garden- 
parly gowns. Gerda seemed unable to keep her eyes off 
her, and kept touching with the tips of her fingers first 
one elegant frill and then another, hovering about her 
like a slim white butterfly round a purple orchid. 

"There's Mother!" she cried at length. "Fetch the 
kettle, Wolf!" 

The countenance of Mrs. Torp was as a book in 
which one could "read strange matters," as she contem- 
plated the scene before her. Wolf, with the teapot in 



378 JPOLF SOLENT 

one hand and the kettle in the other, vociferated a bois- 
terous welcome, drowning the politer words of his 
mother. 

Gerda, having removed Mrs. Torp's tasselled cloak, 
sat her plumb-down at the table, straightening with a fa- 
miliarly affectionate jerk the ribboned bonnet which 
adorned her head. 

"Don't 'ee fidget wi' me old hat, Gerdie," murmured 
the visitor. " Tis a very good hat, though maybe 'lain't 
as aleet as some folks can afford. So thee be Mr. So- 
lent's mummy, be 'ee? Well, and 'a favour'n about the 
cheeks, 'sknow! A body could reason there was some 
blood twixt ye; though in these which-way times 'tis hard 
to speak for sure." 

"Well, we must do our best not to quarrel, Mrs. Torp, 
as they say all mothers do," threw out Mrs. Solent 
briskly, watching with some anxiety the unusual amount 
of sugar that Gerda was placing at the bottom of all the 
teacups. 

"How much milk, Mrs. Solent?" enquired the girl 
lightly. "I don't expect our Blacksod milk is as good as 
yours at King's Barton." 

This society-tone was so obviously put on to impress 
the young lady's mother, that Mrs. Solent hadn't the 
heart to explain, till the time for her second cup, that 
she couldn't bear sugar. She swallowed the sweet mix- 
ture in hurried gulps; and Wolf chuckled to see her 
trying to take away the taste by rapid mouthfuls of 
bread-and-butter. 

"How be thee's schoolmasterin' getting along, Mr. So- 
lent? My old man that be our Gerdie's Dad, ma'am 



THE TEA-PARTY 379 

do always say them Grammar boys be above theyselves, 
what with one thing and t'other. He cotchit two on 'em, 
the last buryin' 'ee had, stealing of they bones. Not 
that they were proper human-like bones ... if 'ee un- 
derstand ... for 'ee do always bury them religious- 
deep. They were bosses' bones, seems so, from what 'ee 
do calculate. But they were more impident, them Gram- 
mar boys, when 'ee were arter they, than if they'd been 
the bones of King Balaam." 

"What's Lobbie been doing lately, Mother?" enquired 
Gerda, feeling vaguely conscious that the subject of 
bones, whether human or otherwise, was inappropriate 
at that moment. 

"Lob, do 'ee say? Thee may well ask what Lob be do- 
ing, the young pert-mouthed limb! He be bringing his 
Dad's hoar hairs down to bedlam, and mine wi 'em, 
that's what the owl's pellet be doing!" 

Gerda hurriedly enquired in a ringing voice whether 
Mrs. Solent wanted any cake. "Pimpernel hadn't any 
fresh kinds except this. I expect you are so used to 
London confectionery, Mrs. Solent " 

But the visitor seemed more interested in her fellow 
parent's conversation than in anything else just then. 

"Sons are troublesome beings, Mrs. Torp," she said, 
"but it's nice to have them." 

"What has Lobbie been doing?" enquired Wolf, heed- 
less of Gerda's frowns. 

"He's been going over with that imp of Satan, Bob 
Weevil, to Parson Valley's. His Dad told 'en he'd lift 
the skin from's backside if he did it; but he was see'd, 
only last night, out there again." 



380 WOLF SOLENT 

"It sounds very innocent, Mrs. Torp, visiting a clergy- 
man," remarked the lady. 

"Innocent!" cried Gerda's mother indignantly. "In- 
nocent thee own self, though I do say it! 'Tis pagan 
deviltries, worse nor Paul on Corinthians. I tell *ee, 
they do play blasphemous play-actings out there, same 
as Lot's wife were salted for." 

"Miracle-plays, is it?" asked Wolf. 

"How do I know what they call 'en? 'Tis small mat- 
ter for the name. Wold Dimity, up to Otters', told I that 
one girt gummuk of a lad dressed 'isself up as Virgin 
Mary. If that hain't a blasphemous cantrip, I'd like to 
know what be!" 

"I expect Mrs. Solent knows better than any of us, 
Mother, what's going on out at King's Barton," put in 
Gerda diplomatically. 

"I did hear something about a miracle-play," said 
the visitor lightly; "but if the subject's a teasing one, 
for heaven's sake let's drop it! I think it was Mr. Urqu- 
hart who mentioned it to me; and if I remember right 
he took rather the same view of it as Mrs. Torp." 

"Squire Urquhart ain't got so much standing his own 
self wi' decent folk for him to be top-lofty," remarked 
the other. "They do tell down our way 'twas that man's 
wicked tempers and sech-like, what drove poor young 
Redfern into's grave; but maybe, as darter says, you 
know more'n we, ma'am, about King's Barton ways. I be 
glad for my part that I lives in a God-fearing daily- 
bread town like Blacksod." 

"By the way, Wolf," said Mrs. Solent, speaking in 
her most high-pitched voice, "I met your friend Jason 



THE TEA-PARTY 381 

the other day in Lenty Lane, and we had quite a walk 
together. We went as far as the ridge-road to Rams- 
gard ... you know? ... by one of those little field- 
paths." 

"Mr. Jason, ma'am?" commented Mrs. Torp. "/ do 
know he. I'd a-seen he, many a fine evenin', a-traipsin' 
home from Three Peewits." 

"I hope you enjoyed your walk," said Gerda, gravely 
and politely, frowning at her mother. 

"How did you and Jason get on?" asked Wolf. "I 
somehow can't imagine you two together." 

"Well," said Mrs. Solent, "I can't quite tell whether 
my company pleased him or not. He talked most of the 
time about my neighbour, Roger Monk. He seems to have 
got into his head that the poor man spies upon him. I 
tried at first to disabuse him of that idea; but he got so 
agitated that I just let him go on. In the end he became 
quite charming. He recited to me a poem about a wood- 
pecker, which I thought very pretty. He has such a nice 
voice when he recites, and the evening was so lovely 
after the rain that I really enjoyed it all very much." 

"No doubt Mr. Otter were sober as a jackdaw when 'a 
walked with 'ee, ma'am. I'm not saying he isn't a nice- 
spoken gentleman, for he is. It's not so much the drink 
they talk of, along of he, down where I do live, it's " 

"Oh, Mother, please!" interrupted Gerda. "Do look, 
Mother, how nicely Mrs. Solent tied my sash!" 

The girl got up from her chair and turned herself 
round. This gesture was evidently adored by Mrs. Solent, 
for she stretched out her arms and caught her by the 
waist and pulled her down upon her knee. 



382 WOLF SOLENT 

"I shall spoil your lovely dress," Gerda cried nerv- 
ously. 

"You're light as a feather, you sweet thing! You're 
soft as swan's-down." 

"She weren't that light, ma'am, when she made her- 
self stiff as pikestaff, on the day us bundled she down 
church-aisle for christening," said Mrs. Torp. "But she 
were light enough, God-sakes, when she did play carry- 
me-over wi' the lads!" 

All this while, Wolf was pondering in his soul how 
it was that Nature had placed in the minds of all mothers, 
refined or unrefined, so large a measure of the heart 
of a procuress. 

"And she were light enough " Mrs. Torp was be- 
ginning again, when Gerda, jumping up in haste, ran 
round the table and clapped her hand over her moulh. 

"Hush, Mummy, I won't have it!" she cried. 

At that moment there was a loud knocking at the front- 
door, and Wolf went across the passage and opened it. 

Bob Weevil and Lobbie hurried into the room together, 
their caps in their hands. The young grocer looked a 
little embarrassed at the scene before him, and made a 
stiff bow to Mrs. Solent. 

"Afternoon, marm," he muttered. 

But Lobbie was quite unperturbed. 

"Dad's corned home afore his time," he cried, "and 'a 
be mumbling about his supper." 

"Shake hands with Mrs. Solent, Lob," said Gerda 
severely. 

But the boy had turned to his own parent. 



THE TEA-PARTY 383 

"Mr. Valley said I was to ask you proper and right 
for promission," he said eagerly, "promission for " 

"For what, ye staring toad?" 

"Promission," the boy went on, "for thik girt play 
next Thursday. The day arter tomorrow 'tis; and all the 
gentry be coming. And I be John the Baptist, what lived 
upon honey and the honeycomb!" 

"Ye'll live upon cabbage and the cabbage-stalk, ye 
impident sprout! I've a-heerd too much of your Mr. 
Valley and his goings-on." 

"Mother . . . Mother!" protested the unabashed Lob. 
But Mrs. Solent interrupted them. 

"Don't you worry, Mrs. Torp. I'm going to that en- 
tertainment myself, and I'll see that this young man 
comes to no harm. I understand just what you feel. These 
clerical junketings are sometimes incredibly silly. But 
you can trust me. We'll keep each other in sight, won't 
we, Lobbie?" And she put her hand on the boy's shoul- 
der. 

"Well, of course, if you answer for him, ma'am, I 
reckon I must be satisfied," grumbled the monument- 
maker's wife. 

"Oh, I'll look after him. Won't I, Lobbie? And if Mr. 
Valley keeps us all up till midnight, you shall sleep at 
Lenty Cottage." 

Lob looked a little nervous at this prospect, but he 
expressed his thanks politely, and the incident appeared 
closed. 

Meanwhile Wolf overheard the following conversation 
going on between Mr. Weevil and Gerda. 



384 WOLF SOLENT 

"Why, if that isn't the very frock you wore, Gerdie, 
when we went to Weymouth, that grand excursion-day, 
years ago!" 

"Yes, it is, Bob. Fancy your remembering! Mrs. Solent 
made me put it on." 

"And to think of that! And to think how we climbed 
down those slippery steps at the ferry, and how fright- 
ened you were of the green seaweed getting on you, and 
how we saw sea-anemones in the pools by Sandsfoot 
Castle, and you couldn't abide the gun-firing out Port- 
land-way. Think of that, Gerdie, the very same dress!" 

"Do you think I'm too old to wear it now, Bob?" 

"Ask me another, Gerdie! But it do make anyone feel 
sort of queer to see you like this. You know? It's all 
the things it brings up, what a person's clean forgotten." 

"You got no more memory than a pig, Bob Weevil." 

"Depends who and what and when," was the grocer's 
retort. 

"Well, don't you worry any more about it, Mrs. Torp," 
repeated the lady in purple. "I promise to keep Mr. 
Valley in order. Or if I can't, I'll get someone who can. 
Lob shan't make a fool of himself, or disgrace either 
John the Baptist or you. I quite look forward to it. We'll 
have a fine bit of sport together, Lobbie, you and I, 
flirting across the footlights!" 

"How did you get over today, Mrs. Solent?" enquired 
Gerda, cutting short Mr. Weevil's memories with a fur- 
tive little movement of her hand a movement that came 
as rather a surprise to Wolf, as he noted it in passing. 

"Oh, Roger Monk drove me," exclaimed Wolf's 
mother. "And that reminds me . . . what's the time, my 



THE TEA-PARTY 385 

son? . . . Good Lord! I've kept the man waiting al- 
ready! I must go at once. I'm to meet him at the Three 
Peewits." 

"I'll walk down with you, Mother," said Wolf, glad 
enough to get a chance of escape. "Good-bye, Mrs. Torp. 
I know you'll excuse me. Don't hurry off, Bob. Why 
don't you keep him for supper, Gerda? And Lobbie, too, 
if Mrs. Torp will let him stay?" 

Mother and son walked leisurely down the clattering 
High Street. 

"She's certainly beautiful, your Gerda!" exclaimed the 
lady, after prolonged silence. 

"She is," admitted Wolf. 

"But oh, dear ! What an awful woman ! Does she worry 
you much, my dabchick?" 

"Worry me, Mother? Not one little bit! I very rarely 
see her, you know." 

There was another long pause between them. 

"What's going to happen when the History's done, 
Wolf?" 

"It may never be done, Mother! He's got really in- 
terested in it at last, thank the Lord!" 

"Wolf, dear " 

"Well, Mother?" 

"I wouldn't let Gerda have a child for quite a long 
while yet." 

"No, Mother." 

"I didn't know that she and this Weevil boy were such 
old friends." 

Wolf swung his stick. Something about the inflexible 
determination of his mother's profile, especially of her 



386. WOLF SOLENT 

clear-cut chin, at that moment, roused an obscure feel- 
ing of rebellion in him. 

"Why the devil not?" he cried. "Bob's a mere kid. 
Gerda treats him exactly as she treats her brother." 

His voice had become high-pitched. That curious, fur- 
tive little movement of the hand, full of old familiarities, 
returned to him most teasingly. 

"Don't talk too loud," murmured his mother. "We're 
not in Lenty Lane." 

"Why did you say that?" he asked. 

"Oh, I don't know," she said lightly. "Don't take it 
too seriously. I only know from old experience that 
men never can be made to realize how susceptible women 
are except where they themselves are concerned." 

"Even when they love a person?" he enquired. 

"What is love?" said Mrs. Solent. 

He was silent; and the conversation between them 
took a less personal tone, till he saw her safely mounted 
in Mr. Urquhart's dog-cart, beside the tall man-servant. 

Instead of going straight home, he walked medita- 
tively and slowly past the Malakite book-shop, and then 
at a more rapid pace followed the road that led up 
Babylon Hill. He did not turn, till, in the slanting rays 
of the sinking sun, he reached that corner of the ascent 
which he had noted from Christie's window. 

Could he distinguish her house among the rest? He 
was not sure. The rays of the great June sun were almost 
horizontal, as it sank down towards Glastonbury; and 
it was all he could do, even with his eyes shaded by his 
hand, to identify the portion of the town where the book- 



THE TEA-PARTY 387 

shop was. As to seeing Christie's window, it was impos- 
sible. 

Annoyed by this refusal of Nature to humour his 
mood, he advanced obstinately still further up the road, 
and finally reached the stile into the field-path that led 
to the turfy ramparts of Poll's Camp. 

There he sat down among the tall, uncut grasses of the 
wayside, and allowed the double stream of memories 
those connected with Poll's Camp and those connected 
with that invisible window below him to contend for 
the mastery in his thoughts. The extraordinary thing was 
that all that poetry of his first encounter with Gerda 
seemed like something that had happened to some exter- 
nal portion of his nature, whereas this strange new un- 
derstanding with Christie sank so deep into his being that 
it invaded regions of which he himself had hardly been 
aware. 

He soon found out, as he sat there, with his back 
against that stile and the pungent smell of herb-Robert 
in his nostrils, how far this new feeling had gone. 

His life had become so agitated since his arrival at 
Ramsgard, that now, at this moment, he felt he had more 
on his mind than he could disentangle. The spirit of the 
evening fell upon him with a burden that was mys- 
teriously sad sad with a multitude of gathering omens 
and indistinct threats. With all the evening noises around 
him noises, some of them faint as the sighing of in- 
visible reeds he became once more conscious that be- 
tween the iron-ribbed gaiety of his mother and the fixed 
grin of that paternal skull in the churchyard there was 



388 WOLF SOLENT 

an ambiguous struggle going on, the issues of which re- 
mained dubious as life itself. 

He found himself crying out to that irresponsible 
skull under the plantains; but the skull answered him 
with nothing but cynical mockery. He found himself 
turning restlessly towards his mother; but he felt that 
just at the point where he needed her sympathy most 
the very basic rock of her nature flung him contemp- 
tuously back. 

On and on he sat, with that sinking sun growing red- 
der and redder before him, and the evening murmurs 
gathering in his ears; and as he sat, an immense soli- 
tude descended upon him, and he began to realize, as 
he had never realized before, how profoundly alone 
upon this planet each individual soul really is. 

And with this feeling there came over him a deep, dis- 
turbing craving for Christie a craving so intense that 
the vision of all the length of all the days of his life 
without her seemed more than he could bear. "Only one 
life," he thought to himself. "Only one life, between two 
eternities of non-existence . . . and I am proposing de- 
liberately to sacrifice in it the one thing that I really 
want!" He hugged his knees with tightly clasped fingers, 
and stared at the red orb before him, sinking now over 
Christie's very roof. 

For the first time in his mortal days this great diurnal 
spectacle seemed to his mind half-f antastic ; as if this 
were not the real sun, the sun he had known all his life, 
that was descending; nor the earth he had known all his 
life that was thus hiding it from his eyes. "If I do give 
up Christie for Gerda," he thought, "it will simply mean 



THE TEA-PARTY 389 

that the one unique experience destined for me out of all 
others by the eternal gods, has been deliberately thrown 
away." 

He bowed his head over his knees and watched the 
climbing of a tiny beetle up a bending stalk of grass. 
"To the universe," he thought, "it matters no more 
whether I leave Gerda for Christie than whether that 
beetle reaches the top of that stalk! Gerda? . . . 
Christie? . . . What are they? Two skeletons covered 
with flesh; one richly and flexibly covered . . . one 
sparsely and meagrely covered! Two of them . . . that 
is all ... just two of them!" And then, bowing his 
head still lower, so that the beetle and its grass-stalk al- 
most filled up his whole vision, he began to imagine 
what it would be like if he did make some wild, desperate 
move. What would happen, for instance, if he were to 
carry Christie to London and get some job to support 
them both there, hidden from all the world? Gerda 
would return to her parents' house. Old Malakite would 
get on somehow or other. His mother would . . . 
Well! What would his mother do? She had scarcely any- 
thing in the bank. Mr. Urquhart could hardly be ex- 
pected to support her. No, it was unthinkable, impos- 
sible! The existence of his mother, her complete de- 
pendence on him, tied his hands fast and tight! 

And then, with an overpowering surrender, there came 
upon him all his old childish clinging to that woman 
whose heart the licentiousness of his father had been un- 
able to quell. He knew his own nature to be tough 
enough, but compared with his mother he was like an 
oak-sapling growing in the cleft of a rock. The woman 



390 WOLF SOLENT 

was adamant, where he was merely obstinate. Rock- 
smooth she was, where he was merely gnarled and 
knotted and earth-rooted. 

"Damn!" he muttered to himself, as he watched the 
beetle turn back resignedly within an inch of the stalk's 
point, and begin a patient descent. "Damn! It's just pure 
weakness and habit!" 

But, oh, dear! How could he desert Gerda . . . how 
could he do it ... after three lovely happy months; 
and without cause or reason save his own fickle mad- 
ness? 

Why had he married her at all? That was the whole 
blunder! He had married her because he had seduced 
her. But girls were always being seduced! That was no 
reason. No! He couldn't get out of it. He had married 
her because he had mistaken a mixture of lust and ro- 
mance for love; and if he hadn't found Christie, he 
might, to the end of his days, never have discovered his 
mistake! Affection would have superseded lust; tender- 
ness would have superseded romance. All would have 
been well. It was Christie's appearance that had changed 
everything ; and there it was ! Christie and he were bound 
together now, come good, come ill. But as things were, 
BO they must remain! If his soul was Christie's, his life 
must go on being his mother's and Gerda's. There was 
no other issue. 

Abruptly he lifted up his head. The sun was so low 
now that he could look straight into its great red circle 
suspended above the roofs of the town. It resembled, as 
he looked at it, a vast fiery tunnel, the mouth of some 
colossal piece of artillery, directed full against him. 



THE TEA-PARTY 391 

With sere wed-up eyelids he returned the stare of this 
blood-red cannon-mouth; and as he fronted it, it 
seemed to him that a dusky figure took shape within 
it, a figure resembling Jason Oiler's abominable idol. 
There was something so atrocious in the idea of this 
dusky demon being there at all being, so to say, the 
great orb's final expression as it went down that he 
leaped to his feel in indignant protest. His movement 
brought the blood from his head, and the phantasm van- 
ished. Slowly and inevitably, with a visible sliding de- 
scent, the red globe sank out of sight; and Wolf picked 
up his hat and stick. "It must be long after eight," he 
thought. "I must get home to Gerda." 



THE SLOW-WORM OF LENTY 



1 HE NEXT TWO MONTHS BROUGHT NO OUTWARD CHANGE 

in the existence of Wolf and the various people of his 
life; but when August arrived, all manner of strange 
developments, long prepared for under the surface, be- 
gan to manifest themselves. 

The trend of these developments began for the first 
time to grow clear to Wolf himself on the occasion of a 
small garden-party given by Mrs. Otter in her little 
front-garden. He had exhausted a great deal of energy in 
an attempt to entangle his mother in a more or less har- 
monious conversation with Selena Gault; and it was 
with a queer feeling of triumph that he left these old an- 
tagonists drinking tea side by side, in their low chairs, 
on Mrs. Otter's lawn, to cross the grass so that he might 
speak to Jason. 

He came upon him in the back-garden, in converse 
with old Dimity Stone, who fled precipitately into her 
kitchen at his approach. 

Wolf was as careful not to disturb the poet's equilib- 
rium as if he had been a leopard cajoling a nervous 
eland. He shuffled by his side into a narrow passage 
between two cucumber-frames, where they both sat down. 
A solitary wood-pigeon kept repeating its diapason of 
languid rapture from somewhere high up in the neigh- 
bouring trees. In the gravel-path, quite close to where 
they sat, a thrush, unruffled by their presence, cracked a 
snail upon a broken piece of brick; and as Wolf made 



THE SLOW -WORM OF LENTY 393 

one desultory remark after another, to set his companion 
at ease, he found himself complacently squeezing with 
the tips of his fingers certain sticky little bubbles of tar 
that the heat of the afternoon sun drew forth from the 
warm wooden planks of the frame. 

"I composed a poem last night," said Jason Otter. 
"And since you're the only person who takes the least 
interest in what I do, I'll repeat it to you, if no one comes 
round the corner." 

"I'd love to hear it," said Wolf. 

"It begins like this." And in a voice almost as modu- 
lated as the wood-pigeon's own, the drooping head by 
Wolf's side swayed slowly to the rhythm of the following 
stanza : 

The Slow- Worm of Lenty curses God; 

He lifts his head from the heavy sod; 

He lifts his head where the Lenty willow 

Weeps green tears o'er the rain-elf's pillow; 

For the rain-elf's lover is fled and gone, 

And none curseth God but the Slow- Worm alone. 

"It's about the pond," said Jason gravely. "I go 
there sometimes in the evening. When it's misty you can 
easily imagine an elf or a nymph floating on its sur- 
face." 

"Is that all?" enquired Wolf. 

"Not quite," replied the other; "but you probably 
won't like the way it ends. It'll seem funny to you; too 
remote from your way of thinking; and it is rather 
funny; but Lenty Pond is a funny place." 

"Do go on," said Wolf. 

And once more in his delicately modulated voice the 
poet began intoning: 



394 WOLF SOLENT 

For the newts and the tadpoles at their play 
Laugh at the rain-elf's tear -wet pillow; 
Laugh that her lover has fled away. 
Little care they for elf or willow. 
They flash their tails to a mocking cry 
"Slow- Worm of Lenty, prophesy!" 

"That's not the end, is it?" said Wolf. 

The man's head turned slightly towards him; and the 
one grey eye which was visible from where Wolf sat, 
passed through some extraordinary change, as if a 
glassy film separating the outward world from an in- 
ward abyss of desolation had suddenly melted away. 

"Do you want to hear the end?" said Jason Otter. 

Wolf nodded, and the voice went on: 

But never again can God look down 
As He did of old upon country and town! 
In His huge heart, hidden all Space beyond, 
There bides the curse of Lenty Pond; 
The curse of the Slow- Worm, by Lenty willow, 
Who pitied the elf on her tear-wet pillow, 
Her pillow woven of pond-weeds green 
Where the willow's twigs made a leafy screen; 
And the purple loosestrife and watercress 
Whisper above her sorrowfulness. 

Once more the voice paused and Wolf listened to those 
two persistent summer sounds, the tapping of the thrush's 
beak and the indescribable contentment of the wood- 
pigeon. 

"Is there any more?" he asked. "I like this style of 
writing better than what you used to read to me a month 
ago." 

"A person can't do more than he can," remarked Ja- 
son Otter, while the flickering ghost of a smile came and 
went at the corners of his mouth. It seemed that even this 
indication of normal feeling was distasteful to him; for 



THE SLOW -WORM OF LENTY 395 

he hurriedly raised his hand in order to conceal it. 

This movement of his arm made Wolf aware of the 
scent of incense. 

"The chap's clothes must be saturated with the stuff," 
he thought. "Oh, damn!" he thought again. "I must get 
that idol away from him." 

"By the way, Otter," he began, "while I think of it, 
don't forget what you promised on the fair-ground!" 

Jason turned his head away. 

"She'll be out again presently," he remarked. 

Whether this referred to the thrush that had just then 
flown away, or to Dimity Stone, Wolf could not tell. 

"I can give you two pounds of that five pounds straight 
off," he said, "if you'll let me come in with you now and 
put the thing in my pocket." 

"And the other three?" cried the man, rising to his 
feet between the cucumber-frames and rubbing the back 
of his trousers with his hand. 

"The other three next week," said Wolf, thinking to 
himself, "I don't care what happens, as long as I dispose 
of Mukalog." 

"Come on then, quick, before anyone sees!" 

They hurried into the house together; and no sooner 
were they in the poet's room than Wolf boldly snatched 
at the little demon on the jade pedestal, and shoved it 
unceremoniously into his side-pocket. Jason made a 
queer, stiff, formal movement of his hand towards this 
pocket; but when Wolf had thrown his arm roughly off, 
an expression of something like relief rippled down over 
his agitated countenance. His lips seemed to be mutter- 
ing; and Wolf fancied that they were explaining to the 



396 WOLF SOLENT 

object in the stranger's pocket that its devotee had only 
yielded to sheer force. 

Hurriedly Wolf put down two golden sovereigns on 
the table. He refrained from placing them upon the 
empty jade pedestal. He placed them side by side, close 
to an edition of the works of Vaughan the Silurist. 

"And now," he cried, "let's hear the end of that Slow- 
Worm poem!" 

"Not here, not here," murmured the other, glancing, so 
Wolf imagined, with lamentable anxiety at the empty 
pedestal, as if at any moment seven other devils, worse 
than Mukalog, might take possession of it. 

No sooner were they safe back at the cucumber-frame 
than Wolf resumed his request for the end of the Slow- 
Worm. Leaning back with his hands clasped meekly in 
front of him, like a child reciting a hymn, the astonish- 
ing man obeyed him with docility. 

And the Lenty Slow- Worm curses God 

For the sake of the rain-elf's pitifulness. 

He lifts his head from the watercress, 

He lifts his head from the quaker-grass, 

From the hoof-marks where the cattle pass, 

He lifts his head from the heavy sod, 

And under the loosestrife he curses God! 

And the newts and the tadpoles who where she lay 

Mocked her from bellies white, orange, and grey, 

Cry now to willow and water and weed, 

"Lenty Pond has a prophet indeed!" 

For the rain-elf weeps no more to her pillow 

Woven of twigs of the weeping-willow; 

But her lover, come back to the laughing rain-elf, 

Cries, "The Slow- Worm of Lenty is God Himself!" 

"Bravo!" cried Wolf. "Thank the Lord you managed 
to comfort that poor girl!" 



THE SLOW -WORM OF LENTY 397 

"She wasn't a girl," said Jason, colouring a little. 

"Eh? What's that?" ejaculated the other. "How could 
she have a lover then?" 

The poet was protected, however, from having to an- 
swer this objection by a sudden, happily-timed inter- 
ruption. 

Mr. Urquhart, escorting Selena Gault, came shuffling 
amiably towards them. 

"Our two young friends in the kitchen-garden, ha?" 
was the Squire's greeting. "I've just been telling Miss 
Gault, haven't I, lady, how well you and I, Solent, get 
on together as fellow authors. I never got on so well 
with our poor dear Redfern, did I, Mr. Otter?" 

Wolf was aghast at the complicated significance of the 
look that his employer fixed upon the agitated Jason. 

"Your boots have got something nasty on them," the 
poet hurriedly rapped out to Miss Gault; and before the 
lady could stop him, he was down on his knees on the 
gravel, wiping one of her shoes with a handful of grass. 

"It's only manure," he said presently, rising with a 
flushed face. 

"Thank you, Mr. Otter, thank you very much," said 
Selena Gault. "I must have trodden on something." 

"I hope you found my mother in her best mood," said 
Wolf. 

Miss Gault frowned a little and then smiled on him 
graciously. 

"Thank you for helping us to renew our old acquaint- 
ance, boy," she said. "But it's really Mr. Urquhart who 
ought to be thanked by everybody for bringing you down 
to us at all." 



398 WOLF SOLENT 

"Thank Redfern, not me," said the Squire, in his silki- 
est tone. "It's quite an art, isn't it, Otter, this business 
of leaving the world conveniently?" 

But Jason was occupied in picking up the bits of 
empty snail-shell left by the thrush. 

"What do they do where there aren't any stones to 
break 'em on?" commented the Squire as he watched 
him. 

Miss Gault swept them both with her formidable gaze. 

"Throw those things away, Mr. Otter, please. When 
the life's gone that's the end." 

"Not always," murmured the Squire. "Not always, ha? 
What?" 

Miss Gault lifted her eyebrows, and her distorted 
upper-lip twitched. "For the dead, it's the end," she re- 
peated sternly; "but it's better to be dead in death than 
dead in life." 

"I think I'd better go and see if my mother wants 
me," murmured Jason uneasily. 

"I'll come with you, Otter," said Mr. Urquhart, making 
a deprecating little gesture with his hand, as if brushing 
away Miss Gault's indiscretion. 

Then he turned to Wolf. "Be in good time tomorrow, 
Solent. I've got a book for you that's more racy than 
anything we've found yet. Malakite sent it over. The old 
rogue knows exactly what suits us." 

Wolf felt it hard to believe the word "Malakite" was 
something that he had heard many times before quite 
calmly and casually. It teased his mind now that it 
should even be uttered by this man, whose pendulous 



THE SLOW -WORM OF LENTY 399 

cheek-folds seemed to him, as he looked at them, to re- 
semble the crumpled rattles of a rattlesnake. 

Conversing sympathetically with Miss Gault, now, on 
the harmless topic of Emma and the three cats, he led 
the lady back into the front-garden. 

Here he was presently much amused by observing Miss 
Gault, with the graciousness of a ducal personage, offer 
to drive Mrs. Solent as far as Lenty Cottage an offer 
that was promptly accepted. When both women were 
gone, and Wolf himself had bidden his hostess good- 
night, he was surprised to hear Jason offering to walk a 
little way with him towards Blacksod. 

Wolf instinctively kept his hand in his side-pocket as 
they walked, with an obstinate determination that nothing 
should induce him to return Mukalog to his idolater. 
But the poet's thoughts seemed running in a quite dif- 
ferent direction. 

"It's very difficult not to curse anyone," Jason began, 
hesitating, and reddening a little, "when a person ex- 
pects you to do it. But I've got the power of joining in, 
so as not to annoy; while really I'm thinking just the 
opposite!" 

To himself Wolf explained this ambiguous remark by 
assuming that Mr. Urquhart had been secretly propitiat- 
ing "the drunken individual at Pond Cottage" by dis- 
paraging to him his new secretary. 

But the poet began again. "I don't like the way some 
people egg on that young fool Weevil to boast so grandly 
of what lecherous things he's done. When people en- 
courage an idiot like that, it's bad for everybody. It puts 



400 WOLF SOLENT 

it into his head to play tricks he'd never dare to think 
out for himself." 

"Ho! Ho!" thought Wolf. "What's up now? Now 
we're beginning to learn something really curious!" 

And the poet continued, in an excited voice: "You 
married people think you know everything. But no man 
ever knows what these girls are after; and I doubt if 
they know it themselves! It's like a gadfly, that first 
tickles them and then stings them." 

"What's like a gadfly?" enquired Wolf. 

"The lust of your excellent young men, such as this 
worthy Bob Weevil." 

"Ah!" thought Wolf in his heart. "Now it's coming!" 

"I never myself talk of lechery to anyone," went on 
the poet; "but this Squire of yours enjoys his little jest, 
whether it's with a young man or a boy. I expect he's a 
bit afraid of you, Solent." 

"I should have supposed," said Wolf, "that Mr. Ur- 
quhart was too snobbish to treat a Blacksod tradesman 
like an equal, whatever his age was!" 

"There is only one class," said the poet, with an air of 
benign authority, "where these matters are concerned." 

"So you think Mr. Urquhart has been at work en- 
couraging our friend Weevil in some pretty little bit of 
mischief, eh?" said Wolf. 

A look of sheer pain came into Mr. Otter's face. 
"What put that into your head?" he cried. "I've not been 
talking about anyone you know, or anyone / know. I've 
been talking about the general mass of people. A person 
is allowed to talk about them." 



THE SLOW-WORM OF LENTY 401 

"You're afraid that Roger Monk might be hiding 
behind that wall?" 

The poet turned toward him his sorrowful grey eyes. 
"I don't like to be upbraided," he said gravely. 

"I'm not upbraiding you," protested Wolf. "Look! 
There are none but very harmless people in there!" 

The wall by which they were now walking was indeed 
the wall of the churchyard; and the idea of Death, like 
a flying, sharded beetle, struck them simultaneously in 
the face. 

"I think I'll cancel our bargain, Solent," said Jason 
suddenly, "and give you back that money, and take back 
my piece of jade!" 

It was a transformed countenance that the poet turned 
now to his companion. Abysmal desolation had de- 
scended upon him, and he almost whimpered as he im- 
plored Wolf to return his idol. 

"It's no use, man. I tell you it's no use. If you went 
straight down on your knees to me I wouldn't give it 
up!" 

Jason Otter pushed his hat back from his forehead 
and stood for a moment with his eyes tight shut. Wolf, 
who had no idea what thoughts were passing through 
that heavy head, clutched tightly the handle of his 
stick, thinking within himself: "He's capable of any- 
thing. He's like a drug-addict, and I've got his drug in 
my pocket!" 

For a perceptible passage of time, though it may have 
been no more than a few seconds, they remained thus 
facing each other, while a group of King's Barton chil- 



402 WOLF SOLENT 

dren, running with noisy shouts down the road, stopped 
and stared at them open-mouthed. 

Then Wolf was aware that the man's lips, out of, the 
middle of that eyeless mask of misery, were muttering 
something something that sounded like an incantation. 

"I'd better sheer off!" he thought; and as he tight- 
ened his fingers round the handle of his stick, he over- 
heard one of the children who were looking on say to 
another in a whisper: "It be only thik poor Mr. Otter, 
took wi' one o' they fits, look-see ! T'other gent be a-going 
to hit he, present, long-side the ear-hole!" 

"Well, good-night, Otter!" he called out to him. "If 
you don't mind I'll shog on! I've got to walk fast now, 
or Gerda will be worrying." 

The figure in front of him made a blind step forward 
like a somnambulist; and in a rapid mental vision as 
definite as if it were a reality, Wolf saw him fallen 
prone in the white dust, crying aloud for the return of 
the image. 

"Well, good-night!" he repeated brusquely; and turn- 
ing on his heel, he strode off at a pace which it was not 
easy to keep from becoming a run. 

For some distance he had an uncomfortable sensation 
in the back of his spine; but nothing happened. With his 
left hand fiercely clutching the thing in his pocket, and 
his right hand swinging his stick, he achieved an inglori- 
ous but effective retreat. 

It was not, however, till he was nearly a mile from 
King's Barton that he dared to reduce his speed and 
take his mental bearings. Even then his disturbed fancy 
mistook the faint thudding of some tethered animal's 



THE SLOW -WORM OF LENTY 403 

hooves on the floor of a shed for the patter of Jason's 
steps in pursuit. 

It must have been half-past six before he began to re- 
cover himself and to look about him. There was hardly 
a breath of wind stirring. There had fallen upon that 
portion of the West Country one of those luminous late- 
summer evenings, such as must have soothed the nerves 
of Romans and Cymri, of Saxons and Northmen, after 
wild pell-mells of advances and retreats, of alarums and 
excursions, now as completely forgotten as the death- 
struggles of mediaeval hernshaws in the talons of 
goshawks. 

The fields of wheat and barley, pearl-like and opales- 
cent in the swimming haze, sloped upwards to the high 
treeless ridge along which ran the main road from Rams- 
gard to Blacksod. On his left, lying dim and misty, yet 
in some strange way lustrous with an inner light of their 
own, as if all the earth had become one vast phosphores- 
cent glow-worm, rolled away from benealh that narrow 
lane the dew-soaked pastures of the Blackmore Vale, 
rising again in the distance to the uplands of High 
Stoy. 

Wolf was tempted to rest for a while, so as to gather 
into some kind of focus the confused impressions of that 
crowded afternoon; but he found, when he paused for 
a moment, leaning over a gale, that the dew-wet herbage 
brought to his mind nothing but one persistent image, 
an image calm and peaceful enough, but full of a most 
perilous relaxation of heart and will and spirit the 
image, in fact, of a young man lying dead in a bedroom 
at Pond Cottage, a young man with a shrouded face, and 



404 WOLF SOLENT 

long, thin legs. Who was it who had told him that young 
Redfern was tall and thin? 

He moved on, with a wave of his stick, as if to dispel 
this phantom; and it was not long before the first houses 
of Blacksod began to appear, some of them with win- 
dows already displaying lamplight, which mingled 
queerly enough with the strange luminosity such as still 
emanated from earth and sky. Wolf noted how different 
such spots of artificial light appeared, when they thus 
remained mere specks of yellow colour surrounded by 
pale greyness, from what they would be in a brief while, 
when they broke up the complete darkness. 

And as he began to encounter the evening stir of the 
town's precincts, and the heavy breath of the Blackmore 
pastures ceased to drug his senses, he found that what 
he had gone through that day was now slowly sifting 
itself out in the various layers of his consciousness. 
"Either Urquhart is up to something," he thought, "or 
Jason has just invented the whole thing to satisfy his 
own strange mind! God help us! What a crazy set they 
all are! I'm thankful I'm out of it down here. Blacksod 
doesn't lend itself to such whimsies." 

Thus did the outer surface of his mind report on the 
situation, making use of the artificially acquired genial 
optimism of many a forgotten mental lour de force. 

But another a deeper layer in his mind made quite 
a different report. 

"There's something up, over there, that's hostile to 
me and to my life. They seem to have nothing else to 
do, these King's Barton people, but plot with one an- 
other against someone. Good Lord! No wonder they 



THE SLOW-WORM OF LENTY 405 

finished off Redfern among them all! I can see I'm go- 
ing to have to defend myself. And easily could I do it, 
too, if it weren't for mother. Damn! It's mother being 
up there that's the rub; so dependent on Urquhart. If it 
weren't for her, I'd laugh at the whole lot of them. I've 
got my job at the school, thanks to Darnley. What a man 
Darnley is, compared with these madmen! They've wor- 
ried him a lot though. Anyone can see that." 

This second layer of his consciousness seemed so 
crowded with thoughts and surmises that he found him- 
self standing stock-still outside a little greengrocer's 
shop, the better to get things clear. 

A small ornament, perched in the lighted window, 
among the oranges and lettuces, made him recall the 
idol in his pocket; and from Mukalo^ his mind rushed 
back to Jason. 

"I can't understand him," he said to himself. "Valley, 
I know, is a good man. Urquhart is a demon. But Jason 
baffles me. The Slow-Worm of Lenty! That's about what 
he is. I had a feeling just now, when he stood with his 
eyes shut and his mouth gibbering, that he belonged to 
some primeval order of things, existing before good and 
evil appeared at all. But it's clear that Urquhart's ca- 
joled him somehow. And yet I don't know! I'm tempted 
to think he'd be a match even for him very much in the 
way some cold wet rain from the aboriginal chaos would 
discomfort the Devil!" 

He turned from the shop-window and moved on. Soon 
he came to where two crossroads branched off from the 
one he followed, the road to the right leading up Baby- 
lon Hill, the road to the left leading to that portion of 



406 WOLF SOLENT 

the town where Christie's house was. Should he turn 
to the left and return home that way? Or should he go 
straight on, past his father-in-law's yard? 

The hesitation into which he now fell left an empty 
space in his mind; and at once there rose to fill it, from 
the invisible depths of his being, quite a new report upon 
the events of that day. Was there something more than 
those old sea-beach afternoons, those Lovers' Lane 
naughtinesses, between Gerda and Bob Weevil? He could 
not help remembering the exciting photograph of the 
girl astride of the tombstone which he had seen the two 
lads enjoying so much, that day he bought the sausages 
for Roger Monk. 

The more rational layers of Wolf's consciousness now 
began a derisive criticism of this new mood. Had he the 
instincts of the lord of a seraglio? Did he demand that 
both Gerda and Christie should be faithful to him . . . 
while he himself was ... as he was? No, it was dif- 
ferent from that! After his fashion he was being faithful 
to Gerda. It was the nature of this particular case. It 
was, in fact, Mr. Weevil! To be cuckolded by Bob, the 
scamp of Blacksod, was not any way a very soothing 
destiny; but to be cuckolded by Bob as a sort of school- 
boy-lark, a lark set in motion by the sardonic Mr. Ur- 
quhart, was a fantastic outrage. 

Still he hesitated at these crossroads, teased beyond 
his wont by the difficulty of deciding which way to go. 
He was so pulled at in both directions, that as he wavered 
he seemed actually to see before him the objects he 
would meet under either choice, and to feel the sensations 
he would experience under either. 



THE SLOW -WORM OF LENTY 407 

In the end a motive simpler than love or jealousy de- 
cided the point. He took the shorter way, the way by Mr. 
Torp's yard, because of a secret craving for food in the 
recesses of his stomach. But though this was his real 
motive, what he thought was his motive was jealousy 
over Bob Weevil. And the idea of this, that he should 
have such a feeling at all, in connection with the romance 
of passing close to Christie's room, at once puzzled and 
shamed him. 

He walked on with rapid strides now; and as he passed 
the familiar Torp yard, which lay in a hushed and rather 
ghastly pool of twilight, he thought how little he had 
foreseen, that March day when he turned into this en- 
closure, what occurrences would be the result of it! 
Bound by intimate habit to the one he had married in 
love, for good and all, with the one he had not married 
his situation just then was sufficiently complicated, 
without all this bewildering turmoil of personalities in 
King's Barton! 

It was with an accumulated measure of sheer animal 
relief that he found himself entering his own house at 
last. This was increased by a delicious abandonment to 
unhindered amorousness when he discovered that Gerda 
was waiting for him at the kitchen-stove in her night- 
dress and dressing-gown. The girl had certain very 
quaint and pretty ways of expressing her desire to be 
made love to; and she had seldom been more excitable 
or more whimsically provocative than she was that 
night. 

Though hunger had brought him so quickly home, it 
was more than an hour after his return that they sat 



408 WOLF SOLENT 

down to their supper; and during the lingered-out and 
shameless caresses which he enjoyed before he would 
let her approach the stove, Wolf was compelled to come 
to the conclusion that erotic delight has in itself the 
power of becoming a kind of absolute. He felt as if it 
became a sort of ultimate essence into which the merely 
relative emotions of the two preoccupied ones sank 
indeed were so utterly lost that a new identity dominated 
the field of their united consciousness, the admirable 
identity of amorousness in itself, the actual spiritual 
form, or "psychic being," of the god Eros! 

What Wolf found to his no small content was that 
when this spiritual emanation of sweet delight had van- 
ished away he was entirely free from any feeling of hav- 
ing commilted sacrilege against his love for Christie. 
Whether this would have been the case had Christie 
been different from what she was, he found it difficult 
to decide; though in the intervals of pleasant discourse 
with Gerda, as they sat over their supper, he pondered 
deeply upon that nice point. 

Another side-issue that had a curious interest for him 
was the question whether the accident of his having re- 
membered that wicked tombstone-picture on his way 
home had had anything to do with the completeness of 
his pleasure! He had noted before in himself the pe- 
culiar role played by queer out-of-the-way imaginations 
in all these things! And finally but this thought did not 
come to him till their meal was over he caught him- 
self at least once that night in a grim wondering as to 
how far the sweet desirability of his companion had been 
enhanced for him by those sinister rumours of a rival 



THE SLOW-WORM OF LENTY 409 

in the field, even though that rival was this water-rat- 
featured seller of sausages! 

Gerda was the first to go to sleep that night as they 
lay side by side, with the familiar odours of summer 
grass and pigsty drainage floating in upon them. Wolf 
had arrived, not without many mental adjustments, dur- 
ing the last two months, at a more or less satisfactory 
compromise between what he felt for this girl, thus ly- 
ing with his arm stretched out beneath her, and what 
he felt for the other one. Christie's inflexible pride and 
the faint, hardly-stirred pulse of her subnormal senses, 
made it much easier for him. An instinctive unwilling- 
ness, too, in his own nature, to introduce any strain of 
harsh idealism, led him to get all the contentment he 
could out of his life with his lovely bedfellow. As he 
listened to her evenly-drawn breathing, and felt, through 
all his nerves, the delicious relaxation of her love- 
exhausted limbs, he was conscious now more than ever 
that it was completely unthinkable that he should be 
guilty of making her unhappy by any drastic change. 
In a sense what he had said to Selena Gault was true. 
He was happy. But he knew in his heart perfectly well 
that he was only happy because the deepest emotion he 
was capable of was satisfied by his nearness to Christie. 
Profoundly self-conscious as he was, Wolf was never 
oblivious of his lack of what people have agreed to call 
by the name of "passion." Luckily enough Christie, too, 
seemed, as far as he was able to tell, devoid of this 
exigency; so that by their resemblance in this peculiar- 
ity the strange intensity of their love was not disturbed 
by his easy dalliance with Gerda. 



410 WOLF SOLENT 

What Wolf at this moment felt, as he listened to the 
girl's soft breathing and held her in his arms, was a 
delicious, diffused tenderness a tenderness which, like 
the earth itself, with the cool night-airs blowing over 
it, was touched by rumours and intimations belonging 
to another region. His sensual nature tranquillized, sat- 
isfied, appeased, permitted his spirit to wander off freely 
towards that other girlish form, more elusive, less tan- 
gible, hardly realizable to any concrete imagination, 
which now lay sleeping or waking, he knew not which 
in the room that looked out upon Poll's Camp! There, 
above the books of that incestuous old man's shop, that 
other one was lying alone. Was she satisfied in this am- 
biguous love of his? He preferred not to let himself 
dwell upon that aspect of the matter just then; and 
holding Gerda fast, and inhaling the mingled night- 
airs, he let his mind sink into the plenary absolution of 
a deep, dreamless sleep. 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 



1 HE NEXT DAY PROVED TO BE, AS FAR AS THE WEATHER 

was concerned, even more pleasant than its predecessor. 

Event followed event in harmonious and easy sequence. 
Gerda's morning crossness was tempered by an enchant- 
ing aftermath of petulant willingness to be caressed. 
His boys at the Grammar School, whom he had labori- 
ously anchored in the reign of the first Tudor, were too 
occupied with thoughts of examinations and the ap- 
proaching summer holidays to be as troublesome as 
usual. His afternoon at King's Barton was devoted to 
a concentrated perusal of the history of the unfortunate 
Lady Wyke of Abbotsbury; and Mr. Urquhart, crouch- 
ing at his elbow like a great silky Angora tom-cat, was 
too absorbed in their researches to indulge in more than 
a very few of his sidelong malignities. 

So well-pleased with their progress was the Squire, 
that while he and his secretary drank their tea at the 
library-window he asked Wolf if it would be any help 
to his mother if Roger Monk were to drive her to Rams- 
gard and back before dinner. 

"Roger declares he wants to go over there," he said. 
"What he's up to I don't know. He never tells me any- 
thing. But if your mother or you care for the drive, 
you can tell him to call for you." 

Wolf knew that Mrs. Solent had in her mind the 
notion of paying a formal call upon Miss Gault as a 



412 WOLF SOLENT 

sign of their reconciliation; so he hurriedly accepted 
this offer and went off at once. 

"I think I'll go too," he announced to the big dark- 
browed servant; "so, if it won't weigh down your gig, 
you might put in the back-seat for me." 

He found his mother lingering over her tea in the 
parlour of the trim cottage. He caught a glimpse of her 
unobserved as he approached the window, and it was 
rather a shock to him to observe a look in her face 
which he had never seen before. She was sitting motion- 
less, with her outstretched hands pressed against the 
edge of the table and her gaze fixed upon emptiness. 
Her brown eyes, from the angle at which he caught her, 
had a defeated, weary, helpless expression, and even the 
contours of her formidable chin were relaxed, crumpled, 
desolate. 

He had a queer feeling of shame for having caught 
her thus, as though in the indecent exposure of some 
secret deformity; and he hurriedly and noisily entered 
the little house. 

At his appearance her whole manner changed. She 
seemed delighted to have the chance of driving to Rams- 
gard with him, and they chatted gaily till she went up- 
stairs to get ready, 

Roger Monk did not keep them waiting; and while he 
was at the garden-gate, holding the horse till the lady 
came down, Wolf had a word or two with him. 

"Mr. Urquhart didn't seem to know what you were 
up to in Ramsgard," he remarked, indiscreetly enough, 
but with no ulterior motive. 

"He knew right and fine, Mr. Solent! Don't you make 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 413 

no mistake. There isn't much that goes on up at House 
or out of House either, for that matter that he doesn't 
know!" 

"That must be rather uncomfortable sometimes, eh? 
What?" 

This rather ungentlemanly imitation of the Squire's 
favourite phrase tickled the swarthy giant's fancy, and 
he smiled broadly. But a minute later his face grew 
grave and worried. 

" 'Tis a good place with Squire," he whispered, bend- 
ing down towards Wolf. "But I tell 'ee straight, Mr. 
Solent, Sir, if I knew for sure he wouldn't play some 
dog's trick on me I'd do a bunk tomorrow!" 

Wolf stared at him blankly. 

"I would," he repeated. And then, with the scowl of 
a righteous executioner, "I'll tap the top of his black 
head for him one of these days if God Almighty doesn't 
do it first!" 

In spite of this somewhat ominous beginning, their 
drive into Ramsgard was a great success. Roger Monk 
quickly recovered his good-humour under Mrs. Solent's 
blandishments; and by the time they reached the school- 
gate they were all three in the best of spirits. 

Here they separated, the servant driving Mrs. Solent 
towards Miss Gault's house, while Wolf turned up the 
street with the intention of paying a visit to the Smiths. 

The door was opened for him by Mattie herself; and 
the brother and sister embraced affectionately, as soon 
as they were alone in the cool, dark, musty hall. 

"Dad is out," she whispered, "and we've only one 
servant now." 



414 WOLF SOLENT 

"One servant?" he echoed, as she led him, with her 
finger on her lip, into the empty dining : room. 

"Olwen's upstairs playing," she said in a low voice. 

It was clear to him that she was anxious that the 
child should not hear his voice; so he shut the door very 
quietly and they sat down together on two red leather 
chairs. 

"What's the trouble, Mattie dear?" he murmured, 
holding her hand tightly. 

"It's Dad," she said. "He's been queer the last few 
days." 

It was difficult for Wolf to repress a smile; for the 
idea of Mr. Albert Smith, the great Hatter of Ramsgard 
School, the sedate Churchwarden of the Abbey, being 
in any kind of way "queer" struck him as grotesque. 

"What's up with him? Business bad?" 

Matlie sighed, and, releasing her hand from his clasp, 
folded her fingers lightly together. 

"It's worse than bad," she said slowly. "Do you know, 
Wolf, I believe Dad's ruined." 

"Good Lord, child!" he cried. "He can't be! I can't 
believe it. Mr. Smith? Why, he's been at this job 
here for as long as I can remember. He must have 
made a lot! He may have got some mania, my dear, 
about money. You ought to make him sell out and re- 
tire!" 

"I tell you, Wolf," she said emphatically, and with 
a certain irritation, "it's true! Can't you believe I know 
what I'm talking about? He's been investing in some 
silly way. He's never been as sensible as people think; 
and now he's hit, knocked over. I believe he's already 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 415 

taken the first step, whatever that is, to being bank- 
rupt." 

"Bankrupt?" repeated Wolf helplessly. 

"So that's the state of our affairs!" she cried in a 
lighter tone. "And now tell me about yourself and your 
pretty Gerda." 

As she spoke she rose to her feet and flung her hands 
behind her head, straightening her frame to its full 
height. 

"She's got a fine figure," thought Wolf. "What a 
shame that her nose is so large!" 

Mattie's countenance did indeed seem, as he looked at 
her staring steadily down at him out of her deep-set 
grey eyes, even less presentable than when he had seen 
her a few weeks ago. 

"She's been having a bad time, poor girl!" he thought. 
"How damnable that the gods didn't mould her face 
just a little more carefully!" 

He looked at her as she fixed her eyes on the floor, 
frowning; and then he glanced away at the mahogany 
sideboard, where Mr. Smith's heavy pieces of polished 
silver met his gaze, with the peculiar detached phlegm 
of old, worn possessions that have seen so many family- 
troubles that they have grown professionally callous, 
after the manner of undertakers and sextons. 

Something about that silver on the sideboard, com- 
bined with his sister's news, threw a grey shadow over 
his own life. His mind sank down into a desolate accept- 
ance of long years of stark endurance, the sort of en- 
durance that wind-blown trees have to acquire when 
their branches become at last permanently bent, from 



416 WOLF SOLENT 

bowing sideways, away from the north or the east. 

"Well, now you know the worst!" his sister murmured 
at last. 

"It might he worse still," he said lamely. 

Her eyes unexpectedly flashed and she gave vent to a 
queer little laugh. 

"I don't care! I don't care! I don't care!" she cried. 
"In fact, if it weren't for Olwen, I believe I'd be almost 
glad!" 

Wolf screwed up his eyes and regarded her closely. 
He suddenly became aware that this daughter of his fa- 
ther had something in her nature that he understood well 
enough. 

"Listen, Mattie," he said quietly. "I have an idea that 
things are going to work out all right work out better 
for you, in fact, than they've been doing for a long 
time." 

She looked straight into his face and smiled, while 
one of her eyebrows rose humorously and twitched a lit- 
tle. 

"You and I are a funny pair, Wolf," she said. "I 
believe we actually like to be driven and hunted." 

They exchanged a long, confused look. Then he pro- 
truded his under-lip and drew down the corners of his 
mouth. 

"If so, we know where we get it," he said. And then, 
in a sudden after-thought: "Look here, we must slip 
off one day together and visit his grave. I don't see 
why Madame Selena should have a monopoly of that 
spot!" 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 417 

She made a somewhat brusque and ungracious move- 
ment. 

"I don't like graves," she said. "But come on, Wolf, 
we mustn't stay down here any more. Let's go up and 
see Olwen. She'll never forgive me even now for keep- 
ing you." 

He opened the door for her and they went up softly 
together. As he followed hefr form up the dim stair- 
case, the thought came shamelessly into his head that 
had she been as lovely in face as she was flexible in 
figure she would have had a sensual attraction for him. 

"But I understand her well," he said to himself. "And 
I'll do what I can to make her life happier." 

Mattie paused, when she reached the first landing, till 
he was at her side. Then she called out: "Olwen! Olwen! 
Here's a visitor for you!" 

"Olwen! Olwen!" echoed Wolf. 

There was a scream and a scramble, and a door was 
flung wide. The little girl ran out with her hair flying 
and rushed into her friend's arms. 

When at last he disentangled himself from her cling- 
ing hands, he held her at a distance from him, pushing 
her into the stream of light that had come with her 
through the open door. Holding her in this way he 
searched her face with a stern scrutiny. "After all," he 
thought, "she's more nearly related to Christie than I 
am to Mattie. We might all be in Mr. Urquhart's book!" 

But the child pulled him into her room, and, disre- 
garding Mattie completely, began hurriedly displaying 
before him every one of her treasures. 



418 WOLF SOLENT 

The summer night was already chilly, and over the 
half-opened window the muslin curtains swelled and re- 
ceded, receded and swelled, as if they were sails on an 
invisible sea. Crouching upon a low straight-backed 
nursery-chair the very chair, in fact, upon which her 
mother had sat to suckle her in her infancy Mattie sat 
with her hands clasped round her knees, watching the 
shadows of their three forms, thrown by the candlelight, 
waver and hover against the old-fashioned wall-paper. 

Wolf began to detach himself, as the three of them sat 
there, from the pressure of the actual situation, from 
the awareness even of his own personality. He seemed to 
slip away, out of his human skin, out of that old Rams- 
gard house, out of the very confines of life itself. He had 
the sensation that he was outside life that he was out- 
side death too; that he was floating in some airy region, 
where forms and shapes and sounds had been left be- 
hind had changed into something else. 

Attenuated by the influence of these bodiless fancies, 
the palpable shapes of Mattie and Olwen seemed to thin 
themselves out into something more filmy than the stuff 
of dreams. Mechanically he responded to Olwen's in- 
tense preoccupations, mechanically he smiled at his sis- 
ter across the little girl's flushed face. But he felt that 
his senses were no longer available, no longer to be 
trusted. He had slid away somehow into some level of 
existence where human vision and human contact meant 
nothing at all. It was as if these two girls had become 
as unreal as his own intangible thoughts those thoughts 
like tiny twilight insects which passed without leaving 
a trace! 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 419 

"No! Didn't you hear me telling you? That's not 
Gipsy . . . that's Antoinette!" scolded the little girl, as 
she snatched a miniature pillow from under one waxen 
head to insert it violently beneath another. 

"Dolls dolls dolls!" thought Wolf. "If we can slip 
out of reality, why can't they slip into it?" He began 
automatically swinging both Gipsy and Antoinette from 
one hand to the other, a proceeding which delighted their 
little mistress. 

"What," he thought, as he contemplated Mattie's heavy, 
clouded, patient features, her corrugated brow, her thick 
nose, "what am I aiming at, meddling with these peo- 
ple's lives? I do it with the same voracity with which I 
eat honey or trample over grass. I'm driven to it as if 
I were an omophagous demon! Is this the sort of thing 
my father did that scoundrel with his 'happy life'?" 

He was interrupted in his thoughts by the sound of 
a bell downstairs, followed by the opening of a door and 
by unsteady steps in the hall. 

Mattie jumped to her feet and stood listening, intent 
and anxious. 

"I believe that's Father!" she cried. "But why did he 
ring? He never rings. Excuse me, Wolf, I must run 
down." 

She opened the door, but remained still listening, as 
also did Olwen, with wide-open startled eyes, a thin 
arm thrown round Wolf's neck. 

There was a muttering and a shuffling downstairs, fol- 
lowed by the clang of a heavy stick falling on a tiled 
floor. Then a chair creaked ominously and there was a 
sort of groan. Then all was silent. 



420 WOLF SOLENT 

Mattie, with her hand on the door, turned round to 
them; and in spite of the flickering of the candles he 
could see that her face had gone white. 

"It's Father!" she whispered. "He's ill. I must go 
down." 

Still hesitating, however, and evidently struck by 
some sort of panic, she continued to waver in the door- 
way. Wolf remembered afterwards every smallest in- 
cident of that occasion. Olwen's little arm had a pulse 
in it that beat against his cheek like a tiny clock as she 
held him tighter and tighter. He replaced Gipsy and 
Antoinette on a chair by his side, half-consciously 
smoothing down their ruffled dresses. Both dolls' eyes, 
one pair blue and one black, stared up at him. Antoi- 
nette's arm stuck out awkwardly, absurdly. He pushed 
it down by her side with one of his fingers and it creaked 
as he did so. 

"Stay where you are, both of you! I must go!" cried 
Mattie; and she ran hastily down the stairs. 

Then there was a sudden scream that echoed sharply 
through the whole silent house. "Wolf! Wolf!" came 
her voice. 

"Stay here, sweetheart!" he cried, freeing himself and 
rushing to the door. "Stay where you are!" But the lit- 
tle girl followed him like a shadow and was there by his 
side when he reached the hall. 

They had left the door of the dining-room open, and 
by the light thus flung into the passage he saw Mattie on 
her knees before one of the hall-chairs, on which sprawled 
the stiff, collapsed form of Mr. Smith. His eyes were open 
and conscious under his black felt hat, which, tilted 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 421 

sideways, gave him a grotesque, drunken appearance. 
Mattie was chafing his hands -with her own and murmur- 
ing wild endearments. 

Wolf hurriedly closed the front-door, which had been 
left ajar, and then, with Olwen still clinging to him, 
proceeded to strike a match, so as to light the hall- 
lamp. 

"What are you doing, Wolf? Go away, Olwen. He'll 
be better in a minute. Father! Darling Father, what's 
the matter? What is it, Father? You're safe at home. 
You're all right now. Father dearest, what is it?" Mattie 
kept crying out in this way all manner of contradictory 
commands and appeals, as she went on rubbing Mr. 
Smith's impassive hands. 

Wolf removed the man's hat and hung it carefully on 
a peg. He remembered afterwards the look of this hat, 
hanging side by side with his own, calm and a little 
supercilious, as hats in that position always are. 

"Mattie," he said, "do you want me to go and find a 
doctor?" 

But at the word "doctor" the man in the chair found 
his voice. 

"No no no! No doctor. I won't have one. I won't! 
Off! Off! Off!" 

"What is it, Father dear?" cried Mattie, rising to her 
feet and pressing her hand against his forehead. "No, 
you don't want a doctor. I'm here your Mattie. You're 
better now, Father, aren't you?" 

Mr. Smith stared at her with a heavy confused stare. 

"All thieves," he muttered. 

Wolf tried to catch his sister's eye for permission to 



422 WOLP SOLENT 

disobey the sick man, but the girl seemed to have for- 
gotten his existence. It was clear to him that Mr. Smith 
had had some kind of stroke. His face wore now an un- 
natural reddish tint, and his head kept drooping side- 
ways, as if the muscles of his neck no longer responded 
to his will. 

Suddenly he astonished them by calling out "Lorna! 
Lorna!" in a loud voice. 

"Oh, he's dying!" sobbed Mattie. "That's Mother he 
wants. It's your Mattie. It's your dear Mattie," she re- 
peated, bending over him. But Mr. Smith had begun 
mumbling now, incoherently, but not inarticulately. 

"Home . . . home for bastards. . . ." Wolf was sure 
those were the words he used; and he was relieved that 
Mattie, fallen on her knees again now, was sobbing so 
violently as to make it unlikely that she could catch what 
he said. 

"Hats . . . hats for bastards. . . ." Mr Smith went 
on. "No, no, Lorna! It was to Longburton he took you. 
But never mind. . . . Albert Smith, home for bastards. 
Albert Smith, Ramsgard, Dorset, Draper and Hat-Dealer. 
To the school, I tell 'ee! No no no! She'll never, 
never, never confess. . . . Longburton barn . . . hay 
and straw . . . hay and straw in your hair, my dear . . . 
and long past eleven. . . . What? You pricked your fin- 
ger? A very pretty hat! Hats for bastards. . . . Home. 
My home. Albert Smith of Ramsgard come home." 

His head had sunk so low now as to be almost resting 
on Mattie's shoulder, as she sobbed against his knees. 
Suddenly he lifted it with a spasmodic jerk. 

"I'll pay for the child! I've got the money. I'll pay 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 423 

for them all and say nothing. Albert Smith, Draper and 
Hatter. ... To the school, I tell 'ee! . . . Pay . . . 
pay all ... pay. . . ." 

This was really the end now. His body fell forward 
over the stooping girl, and Wolf was hard put to it to 
pull her away from between the prone forehead and the 
stiff, protruding knees. For the moment he feared she 
would collapse; but he saw the quick, protective glance 
she cast at Olwen, who stood motionless, staring at the 
dead man like a fairy in a pantomime at the chief clown, 
and he knew then that she was mistress of herself. She 
helped him, without shrinking and without any more 
tears, to carry the body of Mr. Smith up the staircase 
and into his bedroom. . . . 

It was about two hours after this that Wolf entered 
the room again with Mattie. Here, lying on his own high 
pillow, the head of the dead man had already assumed 
an expression of exhausted indifference. Close by his 
side, on a little table by the bed, as Wolf cast a final 
glance at him, was a picture of a young woman in the 
chaste costume of the mid-Victorian epoch. "Madam 
Lorna, I suppose," he thought; and he would have 
looked more closely at his father's sweetheart, but the 
presence of Mattie restrained him. 

"I'll come over tomorrow evening, my dear," he said, 
"after my work with the Squire. Don't commit yourself 
to any arrangements or any plans till we've seen how the 
land lies. You won't, will you, Mattie?" he repeated em- 
phatically. "I'll be really angry if you make any move 
that we haven't discussed together." 

They were out on the landing by this time, and the 



424 WOLF SOLENT 

little girl heard them speaking and called out to them 
from her room. 

"Go to sleep, 01 wen!" cried Mattie. 

"I want him to see Gipsy and Antoinette! I want him 
to see them!" the child repeated. 

"Only for a minute, Wolf, please!" whispered his 
sister. "She's so terribly excited I shall never get her to 
sleep." 

They opened the door and went in. There was a tray, 
with milk and biscuits upon it, on the chest of drawers 
by Olwen's bed and near the tray a small night-light 
burning. By this faint flicker Wolf could see the little 
girl's dark eyes shining with awe-struck intensity, though 
she was immobile as an image. 

"Come nearer! Come quite near! They're as awake 
as I am." 

He went up to the bed; and there, lying on opposite 
sides of Olwen's pillow, were the two dolls, with black 
ribbons twisted tightly round them and their hair brushed 
smooth and straight. 

"They are going to grandfather's funeral tomorrow," 
she whispered. "Don't they look sorry and good?" 

A minute or two later he bade his sister farewell at the 
front-door. 

"You're sure you don't want me to stay the night with 
you?" he asked. 

Mattie shook her head. 

"I shall sleep with Olwen," she replied quietly. "We 
shall be all right." 

"Well, remember you've had no supper. You'll never 
get through the night if you don't eat something." 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 425 

"What about you, Wolf? How stupid I am!" 

"Oh, I'll get a drink at the Lovelace on my way," he 
said. "But remember no plans of any kind till I've 
seen you again!" 

He was indeed only just in time to get into the Love- 
lace bar before the Abbey clock struck ten. He enquired 
about the King's Barton coachman and found that Mrs. 
Solent had left a message at the hotel-office earlier in the 
evening, saying that they could not wait for him, but 
that they had heard of Mr. Smith's death and would Mr. 
Solent come and see her tomorrow. 

"I wonder," he thought, "how the devil she heard? 
They must have actually come to the door and been told 
by the maid about it when we were all upstairs. Well, 
it'll give her some kind of a shock, I daresay but not 
very much!" 

He left the Lovelace after drinking a pint of Dor- 
chester ale. The night was cool and fragrant. The sky 
was covered now by a grey film of feathery clouds, 
through which neither moon nor stars were visible ex- 
cept as a faint diffused luminosity, which lifted the 
weight of darkness from the earth, but turned the world 
into a place of phantoms and shadows. 

Wolf decided to follow the shorter and easier way 
home. This was the highroad to Blacksod that ran along 
the top of the ridge dividing Dorset from Somerset; and 
as he strode between the phantasmal wheat-fields of that 
exposed upland, his thoughts took many a queer turn. 
So Mattie and Olwen were left penniless! That was evi- 
dently going to be the upshot of the hatter's death. And 
the question was, what was to become of them? If it had 



426 WOLF SOLENT 

not been for the child's insane hostility to Christie, the 
natural course would have been for Olwen to return to 
her father's dwelling. The chances were that the local 
authorities, unless Miss Gault took upon herself to med- 
dle again, would not interfere. Then his mind reverted 
to his mother. 

Would his mother take them in? Roger Monk's house 
was certainly big enough, and it seemed unlikely that 
the Squire would object if no one else did. But good 
Lord! he couldn't visualize his mother living with an- 
other woman, or indeed putting up with the waywardness 
and excitability of Olwen. Who would educate her? It 
was impossible to contemplate Olwen at school! 

The problem seemed well-nigh insoluble, as he pon- 
dered on it. Then, all in a moment, he thought of Se- 
lena Gault. There, no doubt, was the obvious solution! 
Selena was passionately fond of the little girl, and Se- 
lena had a servant. He stared at a fantastic thorn-tree, 
whose largest branch, bare of leaves and apparently quite 
dead, stretched out a semi-human hand across the tangled 
foliage of the roadside. As was his wont when con- 
fronted by a mental dilemma, he stood stock-still and 
regarded this silent monitor. 

Nature was always prolific of signs and omens to 
his mind; and it had become a custom with him to keep 
a region of his intelligence alert and passive for a thou- 
sand whispers, hints, obscure intimations that came to 
him in this way. Why was it that a deep, obstinate re- 
sistance somewhere in his consciousness opposed itself 
to such a solution? He tried to analyze what he felt. 
Selena was a good woman, a passionately protective 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 427 

woman; but there it was! That interference in the case of 
the Malakites had lodged a deep distaste in his mind. 
She might love Olwen; but she probably hated Mattie as 
much as she did Christie. 

Damn! Why had Mr. Smith fooled away his money 
and shuffled himself off in this awkward manner? "Home 
for bastards" what gross outbursting of the literal 
truth that was! Well, it was his business now to take the 
hatter's place and find just such a home! That incorri- 
gibly complacent and grinning skull in the cemetery had 
certainly managed to bequeath burdens to its legitimate 
offspring which were not easy to fulfill! 

Wolf stuck out his under-lip at the oracular thorn- 
tree and strode on. What he asked now, of that grey 
luminosity above him and of those diaphanous wraith - 
like corn-shocks, was why there should be, between his 
deepest desire and his complicated activity, such an un- 
bridged gulf? 

He had only one life. That was a basic and relentless 
fact. An eternity of "something or other" lay behind 
him, and an equally obscure eternity of "something or 
other" lay in front of him. Meanwhile, here he was, 
with only one single, simple, and world-deep craving 
the craving to spend his days and his nights with that 
other mysterious and mortal consciousness, entitled .Chris- 
tie Malakite! And yet, for reasons comparatively super- 
ficial, reasons comparatively external to his secret life- 
current, he was steadily, day by day, month by month, 
building up barriers between himself and Christie, strug- 
gling to build them up, moving men and women like 
bricks and mortar to build them up! 



428 WOLF SOLENT 

A villainously evil thought assailed him as he walked 
along. Were all his better actions only so many Pharisaic 
sops thrown one by one into the mouth of a Cerberus of 
selfishness, monstrous and insane? Was his "mythology" 
itself only a projection of such selfishness? He carried 
this sardonic thought like a demon-fox pressed against 
the pit of his stomach, for nearly a mile; and it was just 
as if the hard, opaque crystal-circle of his inmost iden- 
tity were, under that fox's black saliva, turning into 
something shapeless and nauseating, something that re- 
sembled a mass of floating frog-spawn. 

"Come, you demon," he said to himself at last, "my 
soul is going to remain intact, or it's going to dissolve 
into air!" 

He had reached the summit of Babylon Hill now; and 
precisely where he had first crossed that stile with Gerda, 
he stood at this moment, rending his nature in a des- 
perate inward struggle. 

When, in the middle of the night, lying in his bed by 
Gerda's side, he recalled this evil experience, he found 
the explanation of it in a sort of dissolution-hypnosis, or 
corruption-sympathy, linking him with the actual dead 
body of Albert Smith! 

What he experienced was strange enough. He found 
himself very soon clutching with his fingers one of the 
posts of that stile, while with his other hand he dug his 
stick savagely into the sun-baked earth. And it seemed to 
him that every revolting or secretive instinct he had ever 
had took on a material shape and became as an actual 
portion of his physical body. 

He became, in fact, a living human head, emerging 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 429 

from a monstrous agglomeration of all repulsiveness. 
And this gross mass was not only foul and excremental ; 
it was in some mysterious way comic. He, the head of this 
unspeakable body, was the joke of the abyss; the smug 
charlatan-prig at which the devils shrieked with laughter. 

The queer thing was that his brain moved at this mo- 
ment with incredible rapidity. His brain debated, for 
example, as it had never done before, the insoluble prob- 
lem of free-will, the problem of the very existence of the 
mystery called "will." And then, all in a moment, with 
a crouching-wild-animal movement of his consciousness, 
he flung a savage defiance to all these doubts. He laid 
hold of his will as if it had been a lightning-conductor, 
and, shaking it clear of his body, thrust it forth into 
space, into a space that was below and yet above, within 
and yet beyond Poll's Camp and Babylon Hill. And then, 
in a second, in less than a second, so it seemed, as he 
recalled it afterwards, there came flowing in upon him, 
out of those secret depths of which he was always more 
or less conscious, a greater flood of liberating peace than 
he had ever known before! 

He had the sensation, as he came down the slope, of 
having left behind, on the top of Babylon Hill, some 
actual physical body a body that had been troubling 
him, like a great repulsive protuberance, both by its 
appearance and by its weight. He felt lighter, freer, lib- 
erated from the malice of matter. Above all he felt once 
more that his inmost identity was a hard, round, opaque 
crystal, which had the power of forcing itself through 
any substance, organic, inorganic, magnetic, or psychic, 
that might obstruct its way. 



430 WOLF SOLENT 

There were a few lights twinkling still among the 
Blacksod roofs. But he had no notion wJiether Christie's 
was among them; and at this moment it seemed unimpor- 
tant. A new fragrance filled the air as he descended; 
which he defined to himself as the actual smell of Somer- 
setshire, as distinct from the smell of Dorsetshire the 
far-off fragrance, in fact, full of the exhalations of brack- 
ish mosses, amber-coloured peat-tussocks, and arrow- 
pointed water-plants, of the salt-marshes of Sedgemoor. 

Once in the town, he took without any hesitation 
though he did not forget that long vigil of the night in 
June the particular way that led past the Torp monu- 
ment-yard. As he approached Preston Lane through the 
deserted streets, he found himself thinking shamelessly 
and contentedly of the pleasure of making love to Gerda 
before he went to sleep. 

His mind, after the experience he had gone through, 
seemed to float lightly and carelessly over every aspect 
of his existence. The personality of Christie remained 
the same through everything. It was as if to everything 
he did, even to making love to Gerda, Christie set her 
proud and careless seal. This indeed so he said to 
himself was the solution of that dilemma on which he 
had been impaled. Christie did remain the great aim and 
purpose of his life; but these innumerable other people 
were part of the body of that life itself. They were what 
he was, his ways, his habits, his customs, his manias, his 
impulses, his instincts; and with all that he was he had 
now been drawn to Christie as if by a magnet strong 
enough to move a great slave-galleon of manias and su- 
perstitions, en masse across the deep! 



HOME FOR BASTARDS 431 

Airy and light as it now was, his soul seemed to have 
been liberated in some secret way from all that clogged 
and burdened it. The slave-galleon of his manias rocked 
and tossed on a smooth tide; but his soul, like a careless 
albatross, rode on the masthead. There was a strange 
humming and singing from the galleon itself, as if the 
immense peace of that summer night had turned it into a 
trireme of deliverance, carrying liberated pilgrims to 
the harbour where they would be. Something unutter- 
able, some clue, some signal, had touched the dark bulk- 
heads of this night-voyager; so that hereafter all might 
be different. What was this clue? All he knew about it 
now was that it meant the acceptance of something mon- 
strously comic in his inmost being, something comic and 
stupid, together with something as grotesquely non- 
human as the sensations of an ichthyosaurus! But once 
having accepted all this, everything was magically well. 
"Christie! Christie!" he cried in his heart, longing to 
tell her about it. 

He stopped when he was opposite the familiar pigsty, 
and lifted his head, breathing deeply. At that moment 
Fate seemed so kind to him that its kindness was almost 
too great. His love for Christie seemed to touch with a 
kind of transparency everything that he looked at. Rap- 
idly he crossed the road, entered his house, and ran up- 
stairs. 

He found the room dark; but when he had lit a 
candle he saw that the girl was lying wide-awake, her 
head propped high on the two pillows. He was in such an 
exalted mood that he was hardly surprised at her first 
words. 



432 WOLF SOLENT 

"Oh, Wolf, Wolf," she said, "I'm almost sorry you've 
come so soon. I've been looking through that window for 
hours and hours. What's happened to me I don't know; 
but I've not felt like this since that evening when you 
first loved me in the river-fields." 

He stooped and kissed her without attempting an 
answer; and when he held her presently in his arms, and 
the room was again dark, it was as if they each found an 
opportunity in their embraces wherein to express an ac- 
cumulated tide of feelings that spread out wide and far 
spread out beyond all that he could feel for her, and 
beyond so it seemed to him, as he tasted tears on her 
cheek all that she could feel for him. 

And now, as their dalliance sank into quiescence, one 
of Wolf's final thoughts before he slept was of the vast 
tracts of unknown country that every human conscious- 
ness includes in its scope. Here, to the superficial eye, 
were two skulls, lying side by side; but, in reality, here 
were two far-extending continents, each with its own sky, 
its own land and water, its own strange-blowing winds. 
And it was only because his own soul had been, so to 
speak, washed clean of its body that day, that he was 
able to feel as he felt at this moment. But even so what 
those thoughts of hers had been, that he had interrupted 
by his return, he knew no better now, than when first he 
had entered her room and had blown out her candle. 



CROOKED SMOKE 



IT WAS WITH A FAIRLY UNTROUBLED MIND THAT WODF 

set off the following afternoon for King's Barton. And 
it was with a peculiar sense of recovery that he found 
himself seated side by side with Mr. Urquhart at the lit- 
tered table in the great library-window. 

Incredibly fragrant were the garden-scents that flowed 
in upon him, past the Squire's pendulous eye-folds, 
Napoleonic paunch, and withered pantaloon-legs. The 
old rogue had discovered a completely new stratum of 
obscene Dorset legends. He had got on the track now of 
accounting for certain local cases of misbehaviour, on 
the grounds of libidinous customs reverting to very 
remote times. He was, in fact, at this moment gathering 
all the material he could find about the famous "Cerne 
Giant," whose phallic shamelessness seemed by no means 
confined to its harmless representation upon a chalk- 
hill. 

As he looked down, past Mr. Urquhart's profile, upon 
the lawn below, and contemplated the rich mingling 
of asters, lobelias, and salpiglossis in Roger Monk's fa- 
vourite flower-bed, it seemed to Wolf that certain pre- 
maturely fallen leaves which he caught sight of down 
there upon the grass had struck his consciousness long 
ago with a tremendous significance. Those sultry glowing 
purples . . . those dead leaves . . . what was that sig- 
nificance? "This day is going to be a queer day for me," 
he thought. For he had become aware that some screen, 



434 WOLF SOLENT 

some casement, at the back of his mind, behind which 
his most secret impressions lived and moved in their 
twilight, had swung open a little. . . . 

He kept staring down out of that library-window past 
his employer's profile. That purple glow from the flower- 
bed . . . those dead leaves . . . why was there no dew 
down there? It was autumn dew he was thinking about 
that August day . . . silvery mist upon purple flowers. 
. . . "The most important things in my life," he said to 
himself, "are what come back to me from' forgotten 
walks, when I've been alone. . . . Dark grass with pur- 
plish flowers . . . dead leaves with dew on them. . . . 
I wonder," he thought, "how much room those undertak- 
ers left between old Smith's face and his coffin-lid?" 

And then he thought, "I wonder if old Smith ever no- 
ticed the look of dew upon dead leaves?" and he shifted 
his position a little, as a cold shiver went through him. 

But Mr. Urquhart now broke silence. Some telepathic 
wave must have passed from his secretary's wandering 
mind into his own. 

"What's this news I hear," he said, "about Albert 
Smith? The old chap's kicked the bucket, eh? Lovelace 
was over here this morning, and he tells me the fellow 
died last night and left nothing but debts. A bad lookout 
for those two girls, what? Lovelace even hints at sui- 
cide." 

The Squire paused, and a very curious expression came 
into his face. 

"They talked of suicide when Redfern died," he went 
on. "I'd like to know what you think, Solent, about this 
business of shuffling off without a word to anyone? D'ye 



CROOKED SMOKE 435 

think it's easy for 'em? D'ye think they do it with their 
brains cool and clear? D'ye think they have some pretty 
awful moments or not, ha? Come, tell me, tell me! I hate 
not to know these things. Do they go through the devil 
of a time before they bring themselves to it, eh? Or do 
they sneak off like constipated beagles, to eat the long 
ditch-grass and ha' done with it?" 

Wolf tried in vain to catch his employer's equivocal 
eye as he listened to all this. Never in his acquaintance 
with Mr. Urquhart had he felt so baflled by the drift of 
the man's mind. Something in himself, rising up from 
very hidden depths, gave him a hurried danger-signal; 
but what possible danger there could be to him from 
the man's words he was unable to see. 

"Do they mind it or don't they?" repeated the Squire. 
"People pity 'em; but what does anyone know? Per- 
haps the only completely happy moments of a man's 
life are when he's decided on it. Things must look dif- 
ferent then different and much nicer, eh, Solent? But 
different, anyway; very different. Don't 'ee think so, 
Solent? Quite different. . . . Little things, I mean. 
Things like the handles of doors, and bits of soap in 
soap-dishes, and sponges on washing-stands! Wouldn't 
you want to squeeze out your sponge, Solent, and pick 
up the matches off the floor, when you'd decided on it?" 

Wolf was spared the necessity of any retort to this 
by the appefarance of Roger Monk. The man came in 
without knocking and walked straight up to their table. 

Wolf peered at him with quizzical screwed-up eyes. 
He couldn't help recalling that explosion of homicidal 
hatred which he had listened to outside Lenty Cottage. 



436 WOLF SOLENT 

But the gardener's countenance was impassive now as a 
human-faced rock. 

"Eh? What's that, Monk? Speak up. Mr. Solent will 
not mind." 

"Weevil and young Torp, Sir, round at the back. Sir; 
asking for leave to fish in Lenty Pond, Sir." 

Monk uttered the words in a low, discreet, colourless 
voice. 

Mr. Urquhart at once assumed a blustering great man's 
tone of genial condescension, as if he were addressing 
himself to the youths in question. 

"Sporting young men, ha? Gay young truants, ha? 
Well, we mustn't be too strict. Do 'em good, I daresay, 
on a fine afternoon. Probably catch nothing but a perch 
or two! Certainly, Roger. I've no objection, Roger." 

But the man still remained where he was. 

"They did say, Sir, that you said something the other 
night to them, Sir, about " 

But Mr. Urquhart interrupted him. 

"I've no time now. I'm busy with Mr. Solent. Tell 
'em to clear off and fish all they like. There's nothing 
more, Roger, thank you. Tell 'em to fish the pond from 
end to end, but not to trample down the rushes. Tell 'em 
to be careful of the rushes, Roger. That's all, Roger." 

His last words were uttered in such a final and dis- 
missing tone, that the man, having given him one quick 
interrogative look, swung round on his heels and left 
the room. 

The Squire turned to Wolf. 

"A little sport for the populace, eh, Solent? Do 'em 
good, what? Doesn't pay to be too strict these days. 



CROOKED SMOKE 437 

Seignorial rights and that sort o' thing grown a bit old- 
fashioned, ha?" 

The conversation lapsed after this, and they returned 
to their investigations concerning the Cerne Giant. 

It was Mr. Urquhart's part to select, from the mass 
of their material, the particular aspects of Dorset history 
which lent themselves to their work. It was Wolf's busi- 
ness to purge and winnow and heighten these to the gen- 
eral level of the style which they had adopted. 

"Every bibliophile in England'll have this book on 
his shelves one day, Solent," remarked the Squire, after 
about half-an-hour's work. 

Wolf did not reply. For some reason he lacked the 
faintest flicker of an author's pride in what they were 
doing. 

They worked on for nearly a whole hour after this. 
Then Mr. Urquhart suddenly uttered these strange words. 

"It would be wonderful to see one's sponge and one's 
hair-brush as they'd look just then." 

Wolf hurriedly gathered his wits together. 

"You mean after you'd decided upon it?" he said. 

Mr. Urquhart nodded. 

"You'd see 'em in a sort of fairy-story light, I fancy," 
he went on, "much as infants see 'em, when they're so 
damned well -pleased with themselves that they chirp 
like grass-hoppers. It would be nice to see things like 
that, Solent, don't you think so? Stripped clear of the 
mischief of custom? It ... would ... be ... very 
. . . nice ... to see ... anything . . . like that!" 

His voice assumed a languid and dreamy tone, full of 
an infinite weariness. 



438 WOLF SOLENT 

Wolf found it difficult to make any intelligent com- 
ment. His own mind was worrying about many teasing 
details just then, such as what he was to say to his mother 
with regard to Mattie and Olwen, and whether he should 
go to Ramsgard between tea and dinner or wait till later 
in the evehing. 

Mr. Urquhart suddenly rose to his feet. 

"Let's stroll round to Lenty Pond, Solent, and tell 
those lads they can bathe if they want to. It's bathing 
they really like," he added emphatically, "much more 
than fishing. Good for the rabble, too, don't you think so, 
Solent, to learn to swim?" 

Wolf could only patiently acquiesce. He did, however, 
snatch a brief glance at his watch. 

"It's nearly four, Sir," he said. "You won't mind if 
I leave you, after we've been over there, and run round 
to my mother's?" 

The man waved his hand with a negligent, indifferent 
gesture. It was a mere nothing, this gesture; but in some 
queer way it rather chilled Wolf's blood. "It must have 
been," he thought to himself, "exactly in that way that 
the high-priest waved his hand when he uttered the mem- 
orable expression, 'What is that to us? See thou to 
that!'" 

They went out together, and Wolf was almost irri- 
tated by the unnecessary speed with which Mr. Urqu- 
hart walked. 

They did not, for all this hurry, reach Lenty Pond 
uninterrupted. Just as they were entering the field above, 
the Otters' house, they came unexpectedly upon Jason. 



CROOKED SMOKE 439 

The poet had as far as Wolf could make out been 
sitting in the ditch, both for coolness and for seclusion; 
but he emerged ' from his retreat in comparative self- 
possession, and accepted Mr. Urquhart's rather curt 
invitation to join them with quiet acquiescence. 

They all proceeded therefore across the field, Wolf 
forgetting his personal anxieties in his interest in the 
way his two companions treated each other. 

"Your peaches are very fine this year," said Jason to 
the Squire. "And it was a very good idea of yours to 
put netting over them. Thieves are afraid of touching 
netting. It's like the Latin words at the beginning of a 
psalm. It makes fruit seem more than fruit something 
sacred, I mean." 

"You must make my gardener pick you some of the 
sacred fruit when you next explore my garden," said 
Mr. Urquhart. 

"You've put your garden-seats in such a very well- 
chosen place," went on the poet, in an eager, propitiatory 
manner. "None of these country fools understand why 
your garden-seats arc between the yew-hedges and the 
privet-hedges. They've no more idea of how garden-seats 
should be arranged I mean, with regard to shadows 
than a Sturminster goose has of the taste of Tangerine 
oranges." 

"I hope," said Mr. Urquhart drily, "that you will not 
fail to take advantage of all the shadows in my garden 
when you happen to be there." 

Wolf glanced at the Squire's face as he spoke, and 
was startled by its look of agitated annoyance. But Jason 



440 WOLF SOLENT 

went on rapidly, his cheeks growing more and more 
flushed, and a queer dark glow showing itself in his 
eyes. 

"There are idiots who can't enjoy that shrubbery of 
yours, Mr. Urquhart, just because the bushes aren't 
trimmed. Untrimmed shrubberies are by far the best. 
Children and fairies are safe there. Silly old women 
can't walk about in them and God can't get into them." 

"I hope you'll never hurt yourself, Otter, when you 
happen to be walking about in my shrubberies." 

The tone in which his employer uttered these words 
did not altogether surprise Wolf. In his earlier conclu- 
sions about these two men he had taken for granted that 
Jason was helpless in Mr. Urquhart's hands. He had 
already begun to waver a little in this view. 

They now arrived at the edge of Lenty Pond, and 
Wolf was amused by the sight of two naked figures, 
splashing, gesticulating, and clinging to the branches of 
a submerged willow. It was clear that Mr. Urquhart's 
"populace" had not waited for any formal permission to 
substitute bathing for fishing. 

"Hullo, lads! You've done very wisely, I see," said 
the lord of the manor, approaching the edge of the wa- 
ter and leaning on his cane. 

"Take care of the leeches, you two!" cried Jason with 
benevolent unction. 

If Wolf had been previously struck by the unre- 
strained manner in which the poet had rallied the great 
man, he was still more arrested by the change that now 
came over Mr. Otter's expressive face. It had been ston- 
ily self-centred when he came out of the ditch. It had 



CROOKED SMOKE 441 

been twitching with mischief as he talked. It now be- 
came suddenly suffused with a kind of abandoned senti- 
mentality. Every trace of nervousness passed out of it 
and every shadow of misery. It seemed to be illuminated 
by some soft inner light, not a radiant light, but a pal- 
lid, phosphorescent nebulosity, such as might have ac- 
companied the religious ecstasy of a worshipper of will- 
o'-the-wisps. 

Lobbie Torp, his thin white figure streaked with green 
pond-weed, staggered out of the water and sat down by 
the side of Jason on the bank, beating the flies away from 
his legs with a muddy willow-branch. 

Wolf noticed that the poet's expression assumed a look 
of almost beatific contentment as he proceeded to enter 
upon a whispered conversation with the small boy, who 
himself, as far as Wolf could see, was too occupied in 
casting awe-struck glances at the Squire to give the least 
attention to what was being said to him. 

"It's not too warm, gentlemen," called out Bob Weevil, 
with a forced shiver, pulling himself up, rather fool- 
ishly and self-consciously, by the tree-trunk in front of 
him. 

"Why don't you take a swim., Weevil?" enquired Mr. 
Urquhart blandly. 

"He dursn't, Sir. He's afeard of they girt water-snakes," 
cried Lobbie Torp. 

Bob Weevil's reply to this taunt was to drop his hold 
upon the tree, swing himself round, and strike out boldly 
for the centre of the pond. 

"Well done, Weevil! Well done!" cried out the Squire 
in high delight, watching the flexible muscles and slim 



442 WOLF SOLENT 

back of the swimmer, as the muddy ripples eddied round 
him. 

"Float now, Weevil!" he went on. "Let's see you float!" 

The youthful dealer in sausages turned upon his back 
and beat the surface of the pond with arms and heels, 
causing a solitary moor-hen, that hitherto had remained 
in terrified concealment, to rise and flap away through 
the thick reeds. 

There passed rapidly through Wolf's mind, while all 
this went on, a hurried mental estimate of his own feel- 
ings. He felt and he frankly confessed it to himself 
in some queer way definitely uncomfortable and embar- 
rassed. The air of excited well-being around him jarred 
upon his nerves as if there were actually present, hover- 
ing with the gnats and midges above that pond, some 
species of electricity to which he was completely insensi- 
tive. He felt awkward, ill at ease, and even something of 
a fool. 

What puzzled him, too, profoundly and annoyingly, 
was the fact that the psychic "aura" of the situation 
seemed entirely natural and harmless. The presence of 
those two lads seemed to have drawn out of both his 
equivocal companions every ounce of black bile or com- 
plicated evil. 

The Squire had the air of an innocent, energetic school- 
master, superintending some species of athletic sports. 
Jason had the look of an enraptured saint, liberated from 
earthly persecution and awakening to the pure ecstasies 
of Paradise. 

He himself began vaguely wondering, as Bob Weevil 
reversed his position and with vigorous strokes ap- 



CROOKED SMOKE 443 

preached the willow-tree, whether the numerous intima- 
tions of peril he had been receiving lately had any reality 
in them. 

He had been, he knew well, taking for granted for 
many months, that between himself and Mr. Urquhart 
there existed some sort of subterranean struggle that 
ultimately would articulate itself in some volcanic ex- 
plosion. But at this moment, half-hypnotized by the 
heavy sunshine, by the disturbed waters of Lenty Pond, 
by the classic nakedness of the two youths, he found 
himself beginning to wonder if the whole idea of this 
psychic struggle were not a fancy of his brain. 

The sense that this might be the case had an extremely 
disconcerting effect upon him, and seemed to menace 
with doubt and confusion one of the dominant motive- 
powers of his identity. 

He knew very well why it had this effect. His whole 
philosophy had been for years and years a deliberately 
subjective thing. It was one of the fatalities of his tem- 
perament that he completely distrusted what is called 
"objective truth." He had come more and more to re- 
gard "reality" as a mere name given to the most last- 
ing and most vivid among all the various impressions of 
life which each individual experiences. It might seem 
an insubstantial view of so solid a thing as what is called 
"truth"; but such was the way he felt, and he thought 
he would never cease to feel like that. At any rate, one 
of his own most permanent impressions had always 
been of the nature of an extreme dualism, a dualism 
descending to the profoundest gulfs of being, a dualism 
in which every living thing was compelled to take part. 



444 WOLF SOLENT 

The essence of this invisible struggle he was content to 
leave vague and obscure. He was not rigid in his defini- 
tions. But it was profoundly necessary to his life-illusion 
to feel the impact of this mysterious struggle and to 
feel that he was taking part in it. What had come over 
him now as he watched the shining body of Mr. Weevil, 
surmounted by his impudent water-rat face, as the self- 
conscious youth once more began his gymnastics with 
the willow-tree, was a sort of moral atrophy. Sitting 
on the bank, hugging his knees, at a little distance from 
Jason and Lobbie, he had time to watch the Squire, and 
he was struck by the purged and almost hieratic look 
which the man now wore, as he stood leaning upon his 
cane, encouraging the silly manoeuvres of the sausage- 
seller. "He looks like a mediaeval bishop watching a 
tournament," Wolf said to himself. And the placid sun- 
burnt sympathy he felt for the man's amiable passivity 
seemed seeping in upon him like a warm salt-tide a 
tide that was outside any "dualism" a tide that was 
threatening the banked-up discriminations of his whole 
life. 

Then all in a moment he asked himself a very search- 
ing question. 

"What would I feel at this moment," he said to him- 
self, "if Weevil were a girl and Lobbie a little girl? 
Should I in that case be quite untroubled by this Gior- 
gione-like fete-champetre? No!" so he answered his 
own question "I should feel just as uncomfortable 
even then at my complicity. It isn't a question of the 
sex . . . it's a question of something else . . . it's a 



CROOKED SMOKE 445 

question of " A noisy splash made by Lob as he 

darted into the water, and a still louder splash made by 
Mr. Weevil as he plunged to meet him, interrupted 
Wolf's train of ideas. 

He glanced at his watch. It was a quarter to five. He 
scrambled to his feet and picked up his stick. "I must 
rush off," he cried. "You'll excuse me, Sir? We'll meet 
again soon, Otter. Good-bye, Weevil! Good-bye, Lobbie! 
Don't stay in too long or you'll catch a chill, and I 
shall get into trouble with the family." 

Mr. Urquhart and Jason seemed as indifferent to his 
departure as if he had been an inquisitive Guernsey cow 
who had approached them and then gone off with a 
flick of her tail. As he walked across the field he had 
an uneasy sense that he was retreating from some occult 
arena where he had suffered an irreversible defeat. The 
stirring of the waters of Lerity was evidently perilous 
to him! 

He found his mother sitting over the tea-table in Roger 
Monk's trim house, sewing artificial poppies round her 
hat. 

During their tea together he related all he chose to 
relate of the hatter's death. His mother, however, with 
her accustomed airy directness, like the swoop of a 
kestrel, pounced at once on the main issue. 

"That's what I wanted to discuss with you," she said. 
"What's going to happen to those Smith girls?" 

She gave him one of her sharp, quick looks, full of 
worldly sagacity and yet full of a kind of humorous reck- 
lessness. 



446 WOLF SOLENT 

"No one has the least idea," he responded. "I wish I 
could do something for them. But I don't see how I can." 

His mother looked mischievously and affectionately 
at him. 

Suddenly, coming round the tahle, she kissed him with 
a series of little bird-like pecks. "There's no one like 
my Lambkin," she said lightly, "for being too good to 
live!" 

Having thus given him the feeling how well he knew 
it! thai the very deepest stretch of his spirit only ap- 
peared as a pretty little pet-dog trick to her cynical 
maternal eroticism, she went back again, round the ta- 
ble, to her seat. 

She drank more tea after that and ate more bread- 
and-butter, and Wolf received the impression that his 
obvious concern over Mattie and Olwen had for some 
reason given her a deep sense of satisfaction. 

It was certainly a relief to him that this was so; and 
yet, as he met her warm, ironical, half -mischievous 
glance, a glance full of a sort of gloating tenderness that 
laughed at both itself and its object, he felt obscurely 
uneasy. 

"I hope," he said at last, "that I shan't inflict my 
philanthropies on Gerda. Fortunately she's got a very 
sweet nature." 

A somewhat grim look passed over Mrs. Solent's face. 
Her adamantine chin was pushed forward; and her 
under-lip, like the under-lip of a carnivore, protruded 
itself in an extremely formidable manner. 

"I don't see your pretty Gerda putting herself out for 
anybody," she said. 



CROOKED SMOKE 447 

Wolf began instantaneously to grow angry far more 
angry than he could himself account for. 

"She's as anxious about them as I am," he retorted 
hotly. 

"She knows you too well, Wolf, to dare to thwart 
you," remarked Mrs. Solent. 

"It's her generous nature!" he cried, with a trembling 
lip. "It's pure-and-simple magnanimity, such as not an- 
other girl in the world would show!" 

His mother's massive face, under her weight of silver 
hair, darkened to a dull red. 

"I'm afraid you spoil us all, Lambkin," she said, 
with a wicked, airy little laugh. "But your Gerda knows 
how to play her cards." 

She had never spoken to him in this tone before. The 
magnetic current of his anger had touched an evil chord 
in her own nature, and her laugh was sardonic. 

"Play her cards!" he cried in high indignation. "She's 
utterly incapable of such a thing! I wish you'd learn 
the same sweet generosity, Mother! It's you who 'play 
your cards,' as you call it." 

Mrs. Solent rose to her feet, her face pale now and 
hard-set as flint. 

"You'd have done better to have gone back to Blacksod 
this afternoon, Wolf," she said, "if that's how you feel 
about me!" 

"Mother, you are absolutely unfair!" he cried. "And 
you've always been unfair about Gerda. You hate her 
for some unknown absurd reason. Pure snobbishness 
most likely! And you'd like to hurt her, to make her 
suffer, to spoil her life. That's why oh, I see it now! 



448 WOLF SOLENT 

you're so glad I'm fussed up about Mattie. You think 
that will spoil everything for Gerda; and you are glad 
that it should!" 

She came again round the table now, but with a very 
different purpose from her previous gesture; and yet, 
as Wolf knew well, it was the same savage eroticism that 
dominated both these movements. 

"I care nothing, not one crow's-feather, for your pretty, 
brainless Gerda!" she cried, standing quite close to him, 
her left hand on the handle of the silver cake-basket 
which formed the centre of the tea-table, and her right 
hand opening and shutting as if it were galvanized. 
"I've been good to her, to please you ; and I've been made 
a fool of for my trouble. Don't you think I don't know 
how little I count any more in your life, Wolf? Noth- 
ing . . . nothing . . . nothing! You just come and see 
me. You flatter me and cajole me. But you never stay! 
Do you realize you haven't stayed one night under the 
same roof with me, since you married? Oh, it's all right! 
I don't complain. I'm growing an old woman; and old 
women aren't such pleasant companions as brainless 
little girls! Oh, it's all right! But it's a funny experience, 
this being shelved and superannuated while your feel- 
ings are just as young as anyone's!" 

Her voice, as she let herself be overwhelmed by a 
blind rush of accumulated self-pity, began to break and 
choke; and then, all in a moment, it rose to a terrible, 
ringing intensity, like the sound of a great sea-bell in a 
violent storm. . . . 

"It's all right! I can stand it!" she cried. "I had 
plenty of practice with your father, and now I'm going 



CROOKED SMOKE 449 

to have the same thing with you. . . . Oh, it's a cruel 
thing to be a woman!" 

She pushed back her grey hair from her forehead 
with one hand, while the other twitched frantically at 
her waist-band. Never had her handsome features looked 
more noble; never had her whole personality projected 
such magnificent, such primeval passion. 

Wolf, as he watched her, felt weak, despicable, falter- 
ing. He felt like a finical attendant watching the splen- 
did fury of some Sophoclean heroine. He became aware 
that her anger leaped up from some incalculable crevasse 
in the rock-crust of the universe, such as he himself had 
never approached. The nature of her feeling, its direct- 
ness, its primordial simplicity, reduced his own emotion 
to something ridiculous. She towered above him there 
with that grand convulsed face and those expanded 
breasts; while her fine hands, clutching at her belt, 
seemed to display a wild desire to strip herself naked 
before him, to overwhelm him with the wrath of her 
naked maternal body, bare to the outrage of his im- 
piety. 

In the storm of her abandonment, the light irony that 
was her personal armour against life seemed to drop 
from her, piece by glittering piece, and fall tinkling 
upon the floor. Something impersonal rose up in its place, 
an image of all the stricken maternal nerves that had vi- 
brated and endured through long centuries; so that it 
became no longer just a struggle between Wolf Solent 
and Ann Solent it became a struggle between the 
body of Maternity itself and the bone of its bone! 

She broke now into desperate sobs and flung herself 



450 WOLF SOLENT 

face-down upon the sofa. But the demon that tore at her 
vitals was not yet content. Turning half-round towards 
Wolf, and lifting herself up by her arms, she raised a 
long, pitiful howl like a trapped leopard in the jungle. 
"Women . . . women . . . women!" she cried aloud; 
and then, to Wolfs consternation, propping herself upon 
one of her arms, she held out the other with her first- 
finger extended, menacing, prophetic, straight towards 
him. 

"It's he who's doing all this to me! You needn't think 
that you could do it alone! It's both of you. It's both! 
But, oh, you great, heavy, stupid, clumsy lumps of self- 
ishness. . . . Something, some day, will make you . . . 
I don't know what. . . . Something, one day . . . will 
make you. . . . Something will do it ... one day . . . 
and I shall be glad. . . . Don't expect anything else. 
I shall be glad!" 

She drew in her arm and buried her face in the sofa, 
her body heaving with long, dry, husky sobs. 

Wolf surveyed her form as she lay there, one strong 
leg exposed as high as the knee, and one disarranged 
tress of wavy grey hair hanging across her cheek. And 
it came over him with a wave of remorseful shame that 
this formidable being, so grotesquely reduced, was the 
actual human animal out of whose entrails he had been 
dragged into light and air. 

His remorse, however, was not a pure or simple emo- 
tion. It was complicated by a kind of sulky indignation 
and by a bitter sense of injustice. The physical shame- 
lessness, too, of her abandonment shocked something in 
him, some vein of fastidious reverence. But his mother's 



CROOKED SMOKE 451 

cynicism had always shocked this element in his nature; 
and what he felt now he had felt a thousand times before 
felt in the earliest dawn of consciousness. What he 
would have liked to do at that moment was just to slip 
out of the room and out of the house. Her paroxysm 
roused something in him which, had she known it, she 
would have recognized as more dangerous than any 
responsive anger. But this feeling did not destroy his 
pity; so that, as he now sombrely contemplated those 
grey hairs, and that exposed knee, he felt a more poig- 
nant consciousness of what she was, than he had ever 
felt at the times when he admired her most and loved 
her most. 

He let himself sink down in his chair and covered his 
mouth with his hand as if to hide a yawn. But he was 
not yawning. This was an old automatic gesture of his: 
perhaps originally induced by his consciousness that his 
mouth was his weakest and most sensitive feature and 
the one by which the sufferings of his mind were most 
quickly betrayed. 

Then he suddenly became aware that the sobs had 
ceased; and a second later he received a most queer 
impression, the impression, namely, that one warm, glow- 
ing, ironical brown eye was fixed upon him and was 
steadily regarding him regarding him through the dis- 
ordered tress of ruffled hair that lay across it. 

He drew his hand from his mouth, rose to his feet 
quickly, and, bending down above his mother, pulled her 
up from a recumbent into a sitting posture. 

"Mother, don't!" he cried. "You're laughing at me; 
you're pretending! And I might have done I don't know 



452 WOLF SOLENT 

what, because you scared -me so. You've just been teas- 
ing your poor son, and frightening him out of his wits; 
and now you're laughing at me!" 

He fell on his knees in front of her and she let her 
touzled forehead sink down till it rested against his; 
and there they remained for a while, their two skulls in 
a happy trance of relaxed contact, full of unspoken rec- 
iprocities, like the skulls of two animals out at pasture, 
or the branches of two trees exhausted by a storm. 

Wolf was conscious of abandoning himself to a vast 
undisturbed peace a peace without thought, aim, or 
desire a peace that flowed over him from the dim reser- 
voirs of prenatal life, lulling him, soothing him, hyp- 
notizing him obliterating everything from his conscious- 
ness except a faint delicious feeling that everything had 
been obliterated. 

It was his mother herself who broke the spell. She 
raised her hands to his head and held it back by his 
stubbly straw-coloured hair, pressing, as she did so, 
her own glowing tear-stained cheeks against his chin, 
and finally kissing him with a hot, intense, tyrannous 
kiss. 

He rose to his feet after that and so did she; and, 
moved by a simultaneous impulse, they both sat down 
again at the deserted tea-table, emptied the teapot into 
their cups, and began spreading for themselves large 
mouthfuls of bread-and-butter with overflowing spoon- 
fuls of red-currant jam. 

Wolf felt as if this were in some way a kind of sacra- 
mental feast; and he even received a queer sensation, as 
though their mutual enjoyment of the sweet morsels they 



CROOKED SMOKE 453 

swallowed so greedily were an obscure reversion to those 
forgotten diurnal nourishments wjiich he must have 
shared with her long before his flesh was separated from 
hers. 

Half-an-hour later he was walking leisurely towards 
Ramsgard along that now so familiar road. He recalled 
his first acquaintance with this road, that day he drove 
over by the side of Darnley Otter; and as he began to 
approach the town, he found himself glancing across 
the fields to his right, toward the lane that led to the 
cemetery, and then across the fields to the left, toward 
the broader highway which he had followed on the pre- 
ceding night, his head full of Mr. Smith's death. 

Roads and lanes! Lanes and roads! What a part these 
tracks for the feet of men and beasts, dusty in Summer, 
muddy in Winter, had played in his mental conscious- 
ness! The thrill that this idea of roadways gave him was 
a proof to him that his mind was returning to its inde- 
pendent orbit, after its plunge into that maternal hyp- 
nosis. His spirit felt indeed deliciously free just then, 
and expanded its wings to its heart's content, like a 
great flapping rook. Every object of the way took on 
an especial glamour; and never had he enjoyed so 
deeply one peculiar trick of his mind. This was a cer- 
tain queer, sensuous sympathy he could feel sometimes 
for completely unknown people's lives, as he passed by 
their dwellings. He enjoyed it now with especial satis- 
faction, thinking of the people in each cottage he came 
to, and gathering their experiences together as one might 
gather a bunch of ragwort or hemp-agrimony out of the 
dusty hedges. 



454 WOLF SOLENT 

Well enough did he know how many of these experi- 
ences were bitter and grotesque; but what he enjoyed 
now, along with all these unknown people, was their mo- 
ments of simple, sensuous well-being. 

Such a moment he himself felt presently, as he leaned 
over a gate to rest, just before the road he traversed 
entered the outskirts of Ramsgard. Through the warm, 
misty evening, full of what seemed to him a veritable 
diffused essence of gold-dust, there came some quick wan- 
dering breaths of cooler air; and these breaths of air, 
brushing against his face and passing swiftly upon their 
way, carried a peculiar fragrance with them, a fragrance 
that made him think of a certain little garden of old- 
fashioned pinks that he used to pass, on his way to the 
place where he gave his lectures, down a narrow West 
London alley. If in Mr. Urquhart's library he had been 
stirred by Roger Monk's flower-beds, he was more stirred 
now by this far-off impression. The pinks were meagre 
enough in themselves. But the thought of them in their 
sun-baked little garden, so close to the hot pavement, 
touched some chord of seminal memory that gave him 
just then a transporting thrill. 

Where did it come from, this emotion? Was it an 
inherited feeling, reverting to days when some remote 
ancestor of his, in cloister or market-place, used to in- 
hale day by day that particular sweetness? Or was it 
something larger and more general than this? Certainly 
what he felt just now, as these cool-wafted airs came over 
the yellow stubble, was not confined to the pinks in that 
hot little garden behind iron railings. It was much more 



CROOKED SMOKE 455 

as if he were enabled to enter, by a lucky psychic sen- 
sitiveness, into some continuous stream of human aware- 
ness awareness of a beauty in the world that travelled 
lightly from place to place, stopping here and stopping 
there, like a bird of passage, but never valued at its 
true worth until it had vanished away. 

"There must be," he thought, "some deep race-memory 
in which these things are stored up, to be drawn upon 
by those who seek for them through the world a mem- 
ory that has the power of obliterating infinite debris, 
while it retains all these frail essences, these emanations 
from plants and trees, roadsides and gardens, as if such 
things actually possessed immortal souls!" He turned 
from the gate and pursued his road, swinging his stick 
from side to side like a madman, and repeating aloud, 
as he strode along, the words "immortal souls." 

Certain human expressions, meaning one thing to the 
philosopher and quite another thing to the populace, 
were always fascinating to Wolf. His mind began to 
dwell now upon the actual syllables of this phrase, "im- 
mortal souls," until by a familiar transformation those 
formidable sounds took on a shadowy personality of 
their own took on the shape, in fact, of Christie Mala- 
kite and in that shape went wavering away over the 
fields like a thin spiral cloud! "These quaint words, used 
by the men of old time," he said to himself, "to describe 
what we all feel, have more in them than people have 
any idea of. I must tell Christie that!" And then it 
occurred to him how impossible it would be to explain 
to any living intelligence the faltering thoughts that had 



456 WOLF SOLENT 

ended by his invocation of the "soul" of a tiny London 
garden and his embodying it in the wraith of the daugh- 
ter of Mr. Malakite! 

It still kept hovering in front of his mind, however 
this phrase, "immortal souls" even after it had 
slipped like a boat from its moorings. There seemed a 
noble and defiant challenge in it to all that petered out, 
to all that flagged, that wilted, that scattered, that became 
nothing, in the melancholy drift of the world! 

With the cool airs of that summer evening wafted about 
him, he felt, as he passed now under the vast shadow 
of the Abbey church, that there were immense resources 
of renewal, of restoration, spread abroad over the face 
of the earth, such as had hardly been drawn upon at all 
by the sons and daughters of men. "Why is it," he 
thought, "that this particular expression, 'immortal 
souls, 9 should act upon my mind in this way?" And as 
he moved slowly along now between the sculptured en- 
trance to the School-House and the little low-roofed 
shop where the straw-hatted boys of the School bought 
their confectionery, it occurred to him as curiously sig- 
nificant that the syllable "God," so talismanic to most 
people, had never, from his childhood, possessed the 
faintest magic for him! "It must be," he thought, as, 
passing under a carved archway, he came bolt upon the 
old monastic conduit, "that anything suggestive of meta- 
physical unity is distasteful to me. It must be that my 
world is essentially a manifold world, and my religion, 
if I have any, essentially polytheistic! And yet, in mat- 
ters of good and evil" and he recalled his sensations at 
Lenty Pond "I'm what they'd call a dualist, I suppose. 



CROOKED SMOKE 457 

Ay: It's funny. Directly one comes to putting feelings 
into words, one is compelled to accept hopeless contra- 
dictions in the very depths of one's being!" 

He moved right in, under the carved roof of the old 
conduit, between the Late Gothic pillars, and laid his 
hand on the edge of the water-trough. The traffic of the 
high-street passed him by, and groups of tall straw- 
hatted schoolboys brushed past him, cold, remote, 
haughty, discreet, like young Romans in some Ionian 
market-place. 

A barrel-organ was ^eing played where the pavement 
widened, under the out-jutting gables of a mediaeval hos- 
telry; and Wolf couldn't help noticing how the ab- 
stracted, 'mpassive expression of the old man who played 
it contrasted with a couple of ragged little children, 
glowing-cheeked and intent, who danced to its jigging 
tune. 

"Polytheism . . . dualism," he repeated, trying to re- 
tain the philosophical distinctions which he felt crum- 
bling to bits and drifting away. But as he fumbled with 
his fingers at that conduit-trough and turned automati- 
cally a leaden faucet so that water gushed out over his 
hand, his mind* seemed to reject every single one of those 
traditional human catchwords. 

"I just told him it was all bloody rot!" The words 
fell upon his ears from the lips of a pale-faced, quiet 
lad, who, with an arm round the neck of another, swung 
past Wolf's retreat; and they served to give his thoughts 
an edge. 

"All bloody rot!" he mumbled, turning off the water 
and throwing a nervous glance round him, lest his pro- 



458 WOLF SOLENT 

ceedings should have attracted attention. "But there's 
more in all this, all the same, than any of these words 
implies. That's the whole thing. Not less, but more! 
More; though more of what, I don't suppose I shall ever 
discover! But more of something." 

And as he left the conduit and made his way up the 
street, he had the feeling that his real self was engaged 
in an exciting maze of transactions, completely different 
from those which just now occupied his senses and his 
will. 

He found the Smith menage, when Mattie's little maid, 
smiling and radiant at the presence of so much drama, 
admitted him after a long wait upon the doorstep, bur- 
dened J)y the presence of two portly and extremely lo- 
quacious undertakers. Contrary to custom, but due to 
the nature of his illness and the heat of the weather, it 
had become advisable to place the Hatter of Ramsgard 
in his elm-wood coffin without further delay. 

Mattie had brought Olwen down into the dining-room, 
so as to remove her from the sound of the hammering; 
but the child was nervous and preoccupied, and it was 
with but a languid interest that she busied herself with 
the black ribbons of Gipsy and Antoinette, laid side by 
side on the great mahogany table, with the cushion from 
Mr. Smith's chair under their waxen heads. Even Wolf's 
arrival did not really distract her; and he would have 
given much to know what the thoughts actually were 
that gave to her little oval face that sombre pallor and 
frowning intensity. 

Mattie herself seemed strangely lethargic as she drew 



CROOKED SMOKE 459 

up one of the straight-backed leather-covered chairs and 
sat down by his side; and Wolf found it difficult, as 
they both stared at the unsympathetic silver on the side- 
board, to broach the subject of her future, with which 
his mind was so full. 

"Knock . . . knock . . . knock," went the hammer 
in the room above, accompanied by the low-toned rumble 
of conversation from the two intruders. 

"Death is a queer thing," thought Wolf, while the 
weary indifference of Mr. Smith's white face dominated 
the slow passing of the minutes. "Would anyone know 
by that sound," he thought, "that those were coffin- 
nails? There'll be another sound when they put him 
into the hole," so his mind ran on; "there'll be that pe- 
culiar sound of loose, dry mould flung on the top of a 
wooden lid. All the world over, those same two sounds. 
Well, not quite all the world over. But how many times 
had Mr. Smith heard that hammering and that rattle of 
earth-mould? Did he sit in this very place when they 
were nailing Lorna in? I must break this uncomfortable 
silence," he thought. "There! That must have been the 
last! But what the devil are they doing now? This si- 
lence is worse than the hammering. Are they having a 
drink?" 

There was a sharp ring at the doorbell; and the 
three strained faces in that dusky dining-room glanced 
anxiously at one another, while the patter of the maid's 
feet on the tiled floor responded to this new sound. 

A minute later and they all rose hurriedly, while to 
their complete surprise Mrs. Otter and Darnley were 



460 WOLF SOLENT 

ushered into the room. The little lady seemed perturbed 
and embarrassed at the presence of Wolf, but Darnley 
gave him a quick reassuring nod. 

"I heard by chance," began Mrs. Otter rapidly. "We 
were so sorry for you. I wanted to come. My son was 
very good. He got me a carriage. I hope you don't mind 
my coming." 

"I am sure it's very nice of you, Mrs. Otter," mur- 
mured Mattie. "Sit down, won't you? Sit down, please, 
Mr. Otter. Thank you, Wolf. No, that's been broken for 
years." Wolf made a fumbling attempt to replace the 
piece of carved mahogany that had come off in his 
hand. This mechanical preoccupation enabled him to 
notice in silence the manner in which Darnley and Mat- 
tie had begun to stare at each other. 

"What I had in my mind, in coming to you, my poor 
child," he heard Mrs. Otter say, "was to ask a great and 
really rather a difficult favour. What I came to say 
was this . . . oh, I don't know whether I ought to 
worry you now about it! ... but my son ... I mean 
Jason . . . told me I might do just as I liked. . . . My 
house is my own, you know!" This last rather unex- 
pected phrase was uttered with such a winning and whim- 
sical smile that Wolf looked hastily at Mattie, very anx- 
ious that she should say nothing to hurt this visitor's 
feelings. He was surprised to observe that Mattie had 
only in the vaguest manner caught the drift of this 
speech. 

"Yes, Mrs. Otter, you've always been most kind to 
me," was all she said in reply. 

"My son left everything completely in my hands. 



CROOKED SMOKE 461 

Didn't he, Darnley?" Mrs. Otter went on. There was a 
perplexed frown on her face now; and she made a fee- 
ble little movement of one of her hands towards Darn- 
ley, as if appealing to him for help. 

"Didn't he, Darnley?" she repeated. 

But Darnley also seemed to have lost the drift of her 
remarks. 

"You were quite right, Mother," he replied at ran- 
dom. "You're awfully wise when things are getting seri- 
ous. . . . She's wonderful in a crisis." He addressed this 
last remark to no one in particular, and it did little to 
help forward the general air of cloudiness into which the 
conversation had fallen. 

"She really is ... wonderful in a crisis," he re- 
peated absent-mindedly; and Wolf, as he looked at the 
lethargic silver on the sideboard, seemed to hear the 
voice of the cake-basket addressing the biscuit-bowl, 
"She's wonderful in a crisis," in the tone of an ancient 
play-goer commenting on an oft-repeated play. 

"Mattie doesn't know what ever we shall do." The 
words came from 01 wen, who now stood close to Wolf's 
chair; and the words served to bring matters to a head. 

"That's just what I'm talking about," said Mrs. Otter, 
in such an eager tone that everyone turned towards her 
with full attention. 

"What I came to ask you was this," she said firmly, 
addressing herself to Mattie. "Our Dimity is getting 
feeble and old, and I'm not as strong as I was. My son 
Jason, I mean is very particular. You know what he 
is, my dear? What a poet he is. Mr. Solent thinks he's 
a great poet, don't you, Mr. Solent? . . . Well, what I 



462 WOLF SOLENT 

came to say is this. It would be such a pleasure to us all, 
my dear" here she laid her grey-gloved hand lightly 
on Mattie's wrist "if you'd come and live with us and 
help me you know? help me with everything. Now 
don't shake your head like that! I know what you mean. 
Of course, this little one must come, too, and of course 
we've got to think of her lessons." The little lady drew 
a long breath, but hurried on before Mattie could utter 
a word. "It's her lessons I was thinking about. I'm very 
fond of teaching children, children that I like, I mean; 
and I've got all the fairy-stories. I've got the one they 
wouldn't let me even see the pictures of, when / was 
little." 

Wolf had already screwed his head round so as to 
snatch a glimpse of Olwen's face, and he was surprised 
at the grave glow of unrestrained delight that was now 
slowly beginning to spread over it. But Mattie still shook 
her head. 

"I couldn't," she murmured in a faint voice. "Though 
it's very, very kind of you, Mrs. Otter. But I could never 
think of such a thing. Olwen and I have been talking 
about it and we've made up our minds that I must go 
to work. Olwen says she'll be good when I leave her and 
not fret or be lonely." 

At this moment there was a sound of heavy footsteps 
descending the stairs, accompanied by a few muffled 
remarks of a facetious kind. Mrs. Otter glanced at Wolf, 
who gave her a slight inclination of the head. She turned 
to Mattie hurriedly. 

"Well, my dear," she said. "I don't want to rush you 
against your will into anything. Though I did set my 



CROOKED SMOKE 463 

heart upon it and I've thought about it from every pos- 
sible side." 

Mattie's answer to this was to stretch forth her hand 
and press tightly the gloved fingers of the little old 
lady. But the look which she gave her showed no sign 
of yielding. It was very tender; but it was firm and 
resolute. 

There was another pause then among them all; and 
once more Wolf was aware of a most vivid sense of Mr. 
Smith's white, set face, exhausted, detached, comment- 
ing with a kind of desolating equanimity upon the events 
that were taking place. Those ponderous silver pieces 
seemed to Wolf now, as he frowned upon them, to be 
gathering themselves together in that darkening room, to 
be shaping themselves with shadowy persistence into 
funereal ornaments heaped up beside the dead hatter. 

One of the windows behind Wolf's head was open, and 
with the noises of the street there entered and circled 
round him a deliciously cool air, an air like that which 
he had been conscious of on his approach to Ramsgard, 
as he leaned over that gate. Once more the scent of 
pinks came quivering through his brain and he felt a 
shameless thrill of pleasure. This time, instead of the 
wraith of Christie Malakite, it was the body of the hat- 
ter that associated itself with that remembered scent 
not any repulsive odour of mortality emerging from those 
nailed-up boards, but rather some spiritual essence from 
the presence of Death itself. And as he breathed this air, 
the voices of his companions became a vague humming 
in his ears, and all manner of queer detached memories 
floated in upon him. He felt himself to be walking alone 



464 WOLF SOLENT 

along some high white road bordered by waving grasses 
and patches of yellow rock-rose. There was a town far 
below him, at the bottom of a green valley a mass of 
huddled grey roofs among meadows and streams round 
which the twilight was darkening. Along with all this he 
was conscious of the taste of a peculiar kind of baker's 
bread, such as used to be sold at a shop in Dorchester, 
where, as a child, they would take him for tea during 
summer jaunts from Weymouth. The presence of Death 
seemed to re-create these things and to touch them with 
a peculiar intensity. 

He was roused from his trance by the clear, shrill 
voice of Olwen arguing desperately with Mattie. 

"I want to do what she says! Why can't we do what 
she says? I'll be bad if you don't let us! I won't go to 
sleep. I'll be far worse than Gipsy or Antoinette. I'll tear 
my hair out! I'll bite my hand!" 

"Hush, Olwen!" he heard Mattie reply. "Mrs. Otter 
will be only too pleased I can't accept her offer if you 
talk like that." 

The little girl gazed at her for a moment with a quaint, 
solemn scrutiny. Then she laughed, a merry reassured 
laugh, and, rushing to where Darnley was sitting, slid 
coaxingly upon his knee. 

"You'll tell her what she must do when everyone's 
gone," she murmured softly; and then, with her eyes 
fixed upon his face, she stroked his beard with her small, 
nervous hand. 

Mrs. Otter and Wolf smiled at each other; and there 
came into Wolfs mind those scenes in Homer where 
girlish suppliants, mortal as well as immortal, lay their 



CROOKED SMOKE 465 

hands upon the chins of those they are cajoling! 

"Would you tear my hair out as well as your own," 
enquired Darnley, "if she goes on refusing to let you 
live with us?" Wolf thought he had never seen Darnley 's 
eyes look so deeply . luminous as they did while he ut- 
tered those words. 

Mattie still shook her head; but although there were 
tears on her cheek, the whole expression of her face was 
relaxed and at peace. Indeed, as Wolf kept surrepti- 
tiously glancing at her, he got the impression that the 
girl longed to rush away and burst into a flood of cry- 
ing, but not into unhappy crying. The kindred blood in 
his veins made him clairvoyant; and he felt convinced 
that if the Otters refused to accept her rejection of their 
scheme, she would eventually be persuaded. 

"Well, my dear child," he heard Mrs. Otter saying, 
"you must not answer us in a hurry like this. You see 
what friends Darnley and your little one have already 
become; and if only " 

She stopped suddenly; for there came a second ring 
at the street-door, followed by the same impetuous rush 
of the little maid across the hall. This time Wolf looked 
with dismay into his sister's face when he heard a well- 
known voice asking in a loud, firm tone for Miss Smith. 
They all got up when Miss Gault was shown into the 
room. Olwen hastily snatched her dolls from the table 
and carried them off to Mr. Smith's big leather chair by 
the fireplace; and Mrs. Otter, after a hurried bow to 
the new visitor, followed the child to that retreat and 
entered into a whispered conversation with her. 

The presence of Wolf did not seem to be any surprise 



466 WOLF SOLENT 

to the formidable lady. She nodded at him familiarly, 
as she embraced Mattie; but her greeting to Darnley 
was stiff and formal. Darnley himself seemed quite un- 
perturbed by this coldness. His strangely-coloured blue 
eyes remained fixed upon Mattie; and he stood with his 
back propped against a bookcase, toying with his watch- 
chain. 

In the darkening twilight of the room for no one 
had thought of asking for a lamp the man's slim figure, 
as Wolf glanced sideways at him, had the appearance of 
some old Van Dyck portrait come to life in a Victorian 
house. Behind his back the great heavily-bound editions 
of those "Sundays at Home" and "Leisure Hours," whose 
illustrations must have solaced many a long evening in 
the far-off childhood of Albert Smith, gathered the sum- 
mer darkness about them with that peculiar mystical 
solemnity which old books, like old trees and old hedges, 
display at the coming on of night. And Wolf, as he lis- 
tened with amusement to the discourse of Selena Gault, 
became aware that, with one of her chance-flung felici- 
ties, Nature was arranging a singularly appropriate stage 
for what at any rate was an exciting encounter between 
Darnley Otter and Mattie Smith. 

"Darnley must have often met Mattie before," thought 
Wolf. "But very likely never in her own house and prob- 
ably never when they could really take in each other's 
personality. Besides . . . what do I know about them? 
All this may have begun years ago . . . before I came 
upon the scene at all. If so, what secretive demons they 
both have been!" 

He turned once more to his sister. Oh, he couldn't be 



CROOKED SMOKE 467 

mistaken ! Why, the girl's heavy countenance, even in that 
gloom, had a look that he could only describe to him- 
self as transfigured. "There's certainly something up, 
there," he thought. "Well! She'll be a little fool if she 
doesn't take the old lady's offer. I'd like to know, though, 
what Jason did say when this scheme was suggested!" 

And then, seated a little back from Mattie and Miss 
Gault, and accepting a cigarette from Darnley, who now 
took a chair by his side, Wolf began to be conscious of 
the drift of the amazing discourse which the visitor was 
directing, like a cannonade of lumbering artillery, across 
the table into the ears of his sister. Selena's attire was 
in good taste enough indeed, it was superlatively lady- 
like; but it was the "rich, not gaudy" attire of a person 
quite oblivious of contemporary fashion, and in some 
queer way it lent itself so well to the quality of that 
room, that it seemed to bring the furniture itself to life 
in support of everything she said. 

The gathering darkness assisted at this strange play. 
It was as if all the ponderous objects in that room in- 
cluding the silver, the chairs, the dark-green curtains, 
the grotesque portrait of Mr. Smith's father, the leather 
backs of the "Sundays at Home" and the "Leisure 
Hours," the leather back of a draught-board, with the 
words "History of the World" printed on it, the bronze 
horses on either side of the mantelpiece, the enormous 
empty coal-scuttle combined together to give weight to 
the opinions of this aggressive woman, whose own child- 
hood, like that of the silent person upstairs, they had 
ramparted with their massive solemnities! 

And Wolf was astounded at the impertinence of what 



468 WOLF SOLENT 

Miss Gault did say. It was an impertinence covered up 
with bronze and brocade. But it was an indecent im- 
pertinence. It resembled the absurd drapery covering 
the symbolic figure of Mercy, or Truth, or Righteousness, 
which dominated the great dining-room clock that stood 
in the middle of the marble chimneypiece. "I confess I 
first thought," Miss Gault was now saying, "of having 
Olwen to live with Emma and me ... but I couldn't 
have her teasing the cats ... or pining for you . . . 
so this Home is better. I have made a lot of enquiries 
about this Home. I made them last year, for another 
purpose; and it's lucky I did, because people don't 
hear of these things when they really want them. The 
beautiful thing about it is that they accept mother and 
child . . . and of course Olwen is like your child now. 
Another great advantage about this plan is that Taunton 
is so near us all ... only a couple of hours by train." 
She made a little nod in Wolfs direction. "Wolf would 
be able to run over and see you on Sundays," she added. 

Her voice sank; but the darkened room was full of the 
echoes of it the whispering of Mrs. Otter, who was evi- 
dently telling Olwen a story, being the only force that 
resisted it. And the dark-green curtains were delighted. 
"See you on Sundays ... see you on Sundays," they 
repeated, while the draught-board "History of the 
World" echoed the word "Sundays," making it seem like 
the very voice of that charitable institution which ac- 
cepted both mother and child. 

"And the little sum required by the authorities," Miss 
Gault continued, "I shall be delighted to provide. I do, 
of course, recognize that it was against my advice that 



CROOKED SMOKE 469 

you adopted Olwen. But the child's naturally fond of 
you now; and I think it would be wrong to separate her 
from you, as would have to be done if you got employ- 
ment here ... for the child couldn't be left alone all 
day . . . and no doubt everything here will be sold. 
Don't answer me just yet," the lady went on. "I want you, 
Wolf, too, to hear all I've got to say . . . for, of course 
. . . well! there's no need for me to enter into that 
. . . but what I thought I would ask you now, Mattie 
dear, is to tell me what particular things in this house 
you're especially fond of; and then . . . well! I hope 
I should be able to be present at the auction ... so 
that whenever you do have a house of your own they'll 
be ... well ! they'll be, so to speak, still in the family." 
She turned more boldly towards Wolf at this point, as 
if to ensure his recognition of her old-fashioned tact. 
But Wolf's impulse at that moment resembled the im- 
pulse of King Claudius in the play. He felt a desire to 
cry out in thundering tones, "Lights! lights! lights!" So 
that it was still left to the draught-board and the bronze 
clock to appreciate such delicacy and to have the last 
word. 

It was not Wolf, but Darnley, however, who broke the 
spell thrown upon them by Miss Gault. He walked rap- 
idly over to his mother, whispered something in her ear, 
took her hand, and brought her to Mattie's side. 

"You'll Be a dear girl and do what we want you to 
do?" said the old lady clearly and firmly, taking no no- 
tice of Miss Gault. 

Wolf thought he caught an appealing glance in his 
direction, though it was so dark now that his sister's face 



470 WOLF SOLENT 

was a mere blur of whiteness. But he rose hurriedly and 
came up to where they were all grouped. There was just 
a half-second's pause, which enabled him to catch an 
impress of the whole queer scene before he spoke, to 
catch the bewildered anger on Miss Gault's face, to ob- 
serve that Olwen had possessed herself of Darnley's 
hand, to remark how Mrs. Otter was so nervous that the 
chair upon which she had laid her fingers tapped on the 
floor; and then he himself spoke out with all the weight 
he could muster. 

"I'm sorry, Miss Gault, and I know Mattie's most 
grateful for your suggestion; but it had all been settled 
before you came in. They're going to stay for the pres- 
ent with our good friends here. They're going to do what 
/ did when I first came to King's Barton. There'll be 
time enough later for other arrangements; but for the 
moment Mattie's going to accept Mrs. Otter's invitation, 
and Olwen too. As to the furniture here, we needn't de- 
cide about that in any hurry. It may be that Mattie would 
be happier to get completely rid of it. I know I should, 
in her case. But it's sweet of you to suggest buying back 
some of it. I'm sure Mattie appreciates that very much. 
But the chief point just now is what she and Olwen are 
going to do; and that has been quite decided hasn't 
it, Mattie? They're going to that hospitable Pond Cot- 
tage, where I went for my first night in Dorset!" 

Wolf's voice became more and more decisive as he 
brought his declaration to a close; but with an instinct 
for preventing any further protests from Mattie, he hur- 
riedly rushed out into the hall and began calling for 
the little maid. 



CROOKED SMOKE 471 

"Constantia!" he shouted. "Constantia! Please bring 
us the lamp!" 

What occurred after his departure from that dark- 
ened dining-room he never knew. His words seemed to 
have had the effect of the letting off of a gun in a sound- 
less wood. For from where he waited at the kitchen-door 
there came to him an incoherent murmur of many con- 
fused voices. When at last he returned with the lamp in 
his hand and placed it in the centre of the table, Olwen 
was crying in the leather armchair, where Mattie and 
Mrs. Otter were bending over her; while Miss Gault, 
standing erect in the centre of the room, was asking 
Darnley in a strained, husky voice whether it was true 
that they had recently discovered in the Abbey-church 
the actual bones of King ^Ethelwolf, the brother of Al- 
fred. 

"Good-bye, then. Good-bye, all of you! I mustn't be 
in the way any longer." With this, Miss Gault bowed to 
Darnley, nodded in the direction of the weeping child, 
and walked straight into the hall. 

From Wolf she kept her eyes averted as she passed; 
but the expression of her face shocked him, and he fol- 
lowed her to the street-door. As he bent forward to turn 
the handle before she set her own hand upon it, he 
caught sight of that deformed lip of hers; and the look 
of it appalled him. To see such a thing as that was 
bad enough; but it became worse when the extraor- 
dinary visage, that now was face to face with him, con- 
torted itself, there in the doorway before him, into a 
puckered mask of outrage. He felt a little ashamed of 
himself for the brutality of his observation at that mo- 



472 WOLF SOLENT 

ment; but he couldn't help noticing that Miss Gault made 
a much more childish contortion of her face when she 
collapsed than his adamantine mother had done that 
same afternoon! His mother had "lifted up her voice," 
as the Scripture says, "and wept" ; but Wolf remembered 
well how, even when she was howling like a lioness with 
a spear in her side, her fine clear-cut features had re- 
tained their dignity. Big tears had fallen, but they had 
fallen like rain upon a tragic torso. Very different was 
it with Miss Gault at this moment! Three times she made 
an attempt to speak to him, and three times her face 
grew convulsed. 

"Wait a minute!" he blurted out at last, and ran back 
into the dining-room. There he shouted a loud good-bye 
to them all. "See you tomorrow, Mattie dear!" he cried. 
"I leave you in good hands, Olwen. Good-night, Mrs. 
Otter!" 

"I'll come back and have dinner with you, if I may," 
he said, as he caught up Miss Gault on the street- 
pavement. "Listen! What's that striking now?" He laid 
his hand on her arm and held her motionless. "Seven 
o'clock, ay? Well, you don't dine till eight; so do let's 
have a bit of a walk before going to your house." 

"Let's go to the grave, boy," she whispered hoarsely. 
"We can talk there. My Emma won't mind, even if we 
are late. But how will you get back to Blacksod?" she 
added with concern. 

"Oh, I'll take the ten-o'clock train," he said. "That'll 
mean that I shan't have any more walking and shan't 
keep Gerda up. It runs still at that time, doesn't it? Or 
have they changed it?" 



CROOKED SMOKE 473 

But Miss Cault had already given to practical con- 
cerns all the energy she could spare just then. 

"How lovely this place is at night!" she said, as they 
passed under the Abbey-wall. "I wonder if Mr. Otter is 
right and it is really the coffin of King ^Ithelwolf that 
they've found." 

They reached the main entrance to the building, and 
to their surprise they found it open. 

"Let's go in for a minute," said Wolf. His companion 
assented in silence and they entered together. 

"I would have liked to have that child to live with 
me," murmured Miss Gault; "but it would have been 
cruel to the cats . . . she's grown so rough to them 
lately . . . and she's not always polite to Emma." 

Wolf made no reply to this remark; and as they 
moved slowly up the central aisle, which was feebly 
illuminated from somewhere between the choir-stalls, he 
allowed his mind to wander away from Miss Gault and 
her thwarted philanthropies. The few lights that were 
burning hardly reached and then only with a dim, dif- 
fused lustre, like the interior of a sand-blurred mother- 
of-pearl shell the high fan-tracery of the roof. Wolf 
felt strongly upon him once again that feeling of mystic 
exultation which had been hovering over him all day; 
and when the presence of the light behind the choir was 
explained by a sudden burst of organ-notes, he felt such 
a thrill of happiness that it brought with it a reaction of 
sheer shame. 

"Accident!" he muttered to himself. "Pure accident!" 
he repeated, as they crossed in front of the altar and 
made their way to the lady-chapel behind it. And he 



474 WOLF SOLENT 

even felt, as he fumbled about in the dim light, looking 
for some sign of the Saxon king's coffin, a sense of hav- 
ing feloniously stolen his ecstasy from some treasure- 
house of the human race! "Why should I," he thought, 
"be singled out by pure chance for this? That Waterloo- 
steps face no King ./Ethelwolf for him, no fan-tracery, 

no scent of pinks Is my gratitude to the gods, then, 

a base and scurvy feeling?" 

Even as this thought crossed his mind he stumbled 
against some sort of glass framework upon the southern 
floor of that lady-chapel. 

"Here we are, Miss Gault!" he whispered excitedly. 
"Only, I suppose we shall get into trouble if that or- 
ganist hears us. Look here, though, for God's sake! This 
is the king's coffin!" 

He went down on his knees and pulled aside in the 
dim light a piece of carpet that had been carefully spread 
over the glass frame. The unwieldy form of his com- 
panion was promptly now at his side, kneeling too. 

"Dare I strike a match, d'ye think?" he whispered. 

"No, no, boy ! You mustn't do that. Wolf, you mustn't, 
you really mustn't!" murmured the daughter of the 
Headmaster of Ramsgard School. 

But he disregarded her protest, and, fumbling in his 
pocket, produced a match-box and struck a wax vesta. 

The little yellow flame illuminated the glass-covered 
aperture in the floor and threw into such weird relief 
the lineaments of Miss Gault as to almost divest them 
of their humanity. Only a dim consciousness of this as- 
tounding countenance, so near his own, reached Wolf's 
mind just then. He was too excited. But afterwards, when 



CROOKED SMOKE 475 

he recalled the whole incident, it came back distinctly 
upon him as one of those glimpses into something 
abominable, ghastly, in Nature's pranks, such as a per- 
son were wise to make note of, with the rest, as he went 
through the world ! Here, in the mere possibility of such 
a vision for, to say the truth, Miss Gault's face by 
that match-flare was rendered nothing less than bestial 
was an experience to be set against those chance-heard 
organ-notes that had mounted up so triumphantly among 
the torn battle-flags. 

Holding the match aloft with his hand, he bent down 
until his face actually touched the glass. Nothing. Cer- 
tain interesting chromatic effects . . . certain flickers 
and blotches of colour that was no colour, of sparkles 
that were opaque, of outlines that were no outlines . . . 
and then the match burnt his hand and went out. Hur- 
riedly he lit another and held it up, his burnt hand 
smarting. Down went his face till his hooked nose was 
pressed against the glass. Sparkles, black, wavering 
spots, fluctuating blotches of reddish-yellow, little orbs 
of blackness, rimmed with lunar rings; and then again 
darkness! Nothing! Angrily he scrambled to his feet, and 
with childish petulance thrust his smarting fingers into 
his mouth. 

"The bones are there!" he whispered huskily. "The 
bones are there! /Ethelwolf himself! But it's no use. We 
must come again by daylight. It's one of those things 
that are so damnably annoying. Quick! . . . while the 
organ's still playing! I know what these people are ... 
so touchy about their treasures. Let's get out of here!" 

He hurried his companion down the great silent nave 



476 WOLF SOLENT 

and out of the open doorway. He felt much more vexed 
and perturbed than the occasion warranted. The mean- 
ingless sparkles from that tricky coffin-lid danced like 
imps across the back of his eye-sockets. 

"I suppose it's too late to go over there now?" he 
said, turning to her with his hat in one hand and his 
stick in the other, and a wavering helplessness emanat- 
ing from his whole figure. 

"Not at all, boy not at all!" pronounced Miss Gault. 
"Emma must keep supper waiting for us for once. You'll 
have time for a bite anyway before you catch that train. 
Come along! You don't know how fast I can walk." 

Wolf put on his hat and strode by her side in silence. 
The air began to smell of rain by the time they reached 
the slaughter-house. There was a figure with a lantern 
moving about in the yard of the shed; and Miss Gault 
dragged heavily on his arm as they went past, strug- 
gling with the rising wind. 

"You'll get no meat with me, boy," she whispered. 
"No meat no meat. It's the only way to help them. But 
I'd go and be hanged to help 'em . . . hanged by the 
neck" the wind caught her voice and rendered it 
scarcely audible "by the neck, boy!" 

Wolf pondered to himself upon the contradictory na- 
ture of this woman. She would go to the death to put an 
end to slaughter-houses; and yet she would pack off 
Mattie and Olwen to God knows what kind of an insti- 
tution for paupers! 

He felt a secret desire to punish her for this incon- 
sistency, and he suddenly said: "It's really amazingly 



CROOKED SMOKE 477 

good of the Otters to take in our friends. To find such 
a generous heart in a nervous old lady like that makes 
you think better of the whole human race!" 

A portion of the impulse that led him to this speech as 
they passed the slaughter-house was doubtless a throb 
of his own conscience over this matter of eating meat. 
The sight of that man with a lantern, like some ghoul- 
ish wanderer in a place of execution, impressed itself by 
no means pleasantly on his mind; and it was the electric 
vibration of this discomfort that gave his voice, as he 
uttered these words, a certain quivering pitch of un- 
necessary emphasis. 

The malice in his tone communicated itself like a mag- 
netic current to his companion, and she took her hand 
from his arm. 

"The child has wheedled herself round Darnley. That's 
all it is. The mother is willing enough, because she sees 
what a good unpaid servant Mattie will make. I won't 
talk about it any more, and I didn't mean to refer to it; 
but I think you're simply mad to let her accept such a 
humiliating position. But there it is! The girl can't have 
much pride, or nothing you said or they said could have 
made her accept such charity!" 

His remark having brought about this outburst, he was 
able to exclaim in his heart, "You rude, ill-bred old 
woman! You rude, ill-bred old woman!" and, having 
done this, he felt quite friendly toward her again and 
quite appeased. 

He pretended to be sulking, however, for the whole 
time they remained in the cemetery; though in reality 



478 WOLF SOLENT 

he was thinking to himself, "What a spirited thing it was, 
after all, to stick by my father like that, when he was a 
complete social outcast!" 

They walked home in even deeper silence and at a 
rapid pace. It was twenty-five minutes to ten when they 
reached Aldhelm Street, only to find Emma in such an 
agitated temper that Selena had to go herself into the 
kitchen and bring out to him in the sitting-room a plate 
of curried eggs and a decanter of sherry. 

He sat on her sofa and swallowed this hot dish with 
hungry relish, eating it in unceremonious fashion with a 
spoon, and tossing off so many glasses of wine that 
Selena glanced at him rather nervously as she herself 
nibbled a biscuit. 

"Emma does cook well!" he said at last, as he rose 
to go. "It's all right, Miss Gault, dear. You needn't look 
so anxious. I've got a head of iron." And immediately, as 
if to prove he had such a head, he felt it to be incum- 
bent upon him to say something affectionate and tender. 
"I believe," he burst out, "I must have just the same sort 
of feeling for you that he had!" 

These were his parting words; but it was not until 
he was sitting in a third-class smoking-carriage of the 
South- Western train that he began to wonder why it was 
that Miss Gault's face had such a wry smile upon it as 
he shook hands with her at her door. 

He was alone in the carriage, and, windy though it was, 
he kept the window open and sat facing the engine. The 
rush of air sobered him, and he observed with interest 
the scattered lights of King's Barton as the train jolted 
along its high embankment between that village and the 



CROOKED SMOKE 479 

Evershott meadows. He wondered humorously to himself 
what Jason would say that evening when he learnt of the 
new invasion of his privacy. 

His mood saddened before the train stopped at Black- 
sod. 

"If I knew I were only going to live five more years," 
he thought, "I would give away four of them if I were 
allowed to spend the other one, day and night, with 
Christie!" And then, as the cold wind made him shiver 
a little and turn up his coat-collar, "I wonder," he 
thought, "whether I'm just weak and cowardly in not 
leaving them all and carrying Christie off to London, 
let happen what may?" 

The train was now following an umbrageous em- 
bankment parallel with the river Lunt. The muddy smell 
of that sluggish water, which the Ramsgard boys irrever- 
ently named "the Bog-stream," assailed his nostrils, 
bringing with it a feeling of obscure misery. A chilli- 
ness in his bones, a weariness in his brain, gave now to 
all the events of the day a sombre colour, like the col- 
our of river-mud. 

As the locomotive slowly lessened its speed, he tried 
in vain to recall those moments of happiness . . . the 
vision of the bed of pinks ... the sweet emanation from 
the very body of death. But in place of these things all 
he could think of was obdurate roots in clinging clay, 
sparkles and blotches that bore no human meaning, ham- 
mering of nails into coffins, men with lanterns in 
slaughter-house yards, and the pallid loins of Bob Weevil 
streaked with the green slime of Lenty Pond, 



ROUNDED WITH A SLEEP 



AUGUST WAS DRAWING TO ITS END, AND, WITH AUGUST, 
the holidays of the Blacksod Grammar School. The young 
aristocrats of Ramsgard had several weeks more before 
their new term began, but the humbler pupils whom it 
was Wolf's destiny to teach were now on the eve of their 
return to work. 

Anxious to make the utmost of these precious morn- 
ings of leisure, now so soon to be snatched from him, 
Wolf had lately got into the habit of persuading Gerda 
to start out with him, for some sort of rural expedition, 
directly the breakfast-things had been washed up. 

They had explored the country in this way in almost 
every direction; but he found that the easiest thing to 
do was to have some sort of picnic-lunch in the direction 
of King's Barton, so that when they separated he could 
reach his afternoon's work at the manor without arriving 
too tired or too late. 

Three days before the Grammar School was to reopen 
he had cajoled Gerda into accompanying him to Poll's 
Camp. They had brought their provisions in a basket and 
had made their meal in unusual contentment under the 
shelter of a group of small sycamores that grew on the 
western slope of the camp, overlooking the great Somer- 
setshire plain. 

Gerda was now fast asleep. Stretched out upon her 
back, she lay as motionless as the shadows about her, 
one arm curved beneath her fair head and the other 



ROUNDED WITH A SLEEP 481 

flung upon a bed of moss. Wolf sat with his arms hug- 
ging his knees, and his back against a sycamore-trunk. 

The weather had been good for the wheat that Sum- 
mer, and not too scorching to the grass; so that what he 
looked at now, as he let his eyes wander over that great 
level expanse towards Glastonbury, was a vast chess- 
board of small green fields, surrounded by pollarded 
elms of a yet darker colour, and interspersed by squares 
of yellow stubble. 

The earthworks of Poll's Camp were not as deeply dug 
or as loflily raised as many Roman-British ramparts in 
that portion of the West Country. They were less of a 
landmark than Cadbury Camp, for instance, away to the 
northwest. They were less imposing than Maiden Castle, 
away to the south. But such as they were, Wolf knew 
that the mysterious movements of King Arthur . . . rex 
quondam rex-que futurus . . . had more than once 
crossed and recrossed, in local legend, this promontory 
of grassy ridges. 

The day was warm; but the fact that the sky was 
covered with a filmy veil of grey clouds gave to the vast 
plain before him the appearance of a landscape whose 
dominant characteristic consisted in a patient efface- 
ment of all emphatic or outstanding qualities. The green 
of the meadows was a shy, watery green. The verdure of 
the elm-trees was a sombre, blackish monotony. The yel- 
low of the stubble-land was a whitish yellow, pallid and 
lustreless. 

He glanced at the sleeping figure of his companion, 
and it seemed to him that the milk-white delicacy of 
Gerda's face, as she lay there, had never been touched 



482 WOLF SOLENT 

by a more tender bloom than it wore today, under this 
vaporous, windless sky. 

Her breathing was so light as to be almost imper- 
ceptible, her lips were just parted in a confiding aban- 
donment to a happy sleep; while the rounded whiteness 
of the bare arm she had flung out upon the moss had 
that youthful charm of unconscious trust in the kindness 
of man and nature, which, whenever he noted it, always 
struck him as one of the most touching of a young girl's 
qualities. 

And it was borne in upon him how terrible the respon- 
sibility was when a man had once undertaken to "make," 
as the phrase runs, one of these fragile beings "happy." 
It came upon him, as he watched Gerda asleep, that a 
girl is much more committed to what is called "hap- 
piness" than a man is. 

Or is it, he thought, that a man can create happiness by 
sheer obstinate force out of the machinery of his own 
mind, while a girl is dependent upon all manner of 
subtle external forces emanating from nature and re- 
turning to nature? 

Certainly at this moment Gerda seemed to have most 
deliciously abandoned herself to the power of the grass, 
the grey sky, the warm, windless air. 

A sad, helpless craving possessed him as he turned 
from the girl and once more surveyed that undemon- 
strative, unobtrusive distance. He felt as though he 
longed to fly across it in some impossible non-human 
shape fly across it not with any actual living compan- 
ion, but with some shadowy essence, light as that 
dandelion-seed, which at this moment he saw rising high 



ROUNDED WITH A SLEEP 483 

above him and floating away westward with some shad- 
owy essence that at the same time was and was not 
Christie Malakite some essence that was what Christie 
was to her own inmost self, the bodiless, formless iden- 
tity in that slim frame, that in confronting infinite space 
could only utter the mysterious words, "I am I," and 
utter nothing else. 

If only he could do this now, by some occult manip- 
ulation of the laws of nature! Gerda's sleep was deep 
and sound. To her at this moment Time was nothing. 
How mad it was that he couldn't plunge with Christie, 
with the inmost soul of Christie, into some region out- 
side these things, where a moment was like a whole year 
of mortal life! 

The vast expanse he looked at, had about it, under 
this grey sky, something wistful and withdrawn. It re- 
sembled those patient, melancholy fields, neither happy 
nor unhappy, where Dante met the souls of the great 
intellects in Limbo. With his eyes fixed upon its patient- 
coloured horizons, it did not seem so crazy a notion that 
he and Christie might meet and escape, lost, merged, 
diffused into all this! 

And then he turned his gaze upon the beautiful girl 
lying there outstretched beside him, happy in her time- 
less dream-world, trusting him, trusting nature, half- 
smiling in her sleep. 

Looking at her lying there, he thought what an ap- 
palling risk these lovers of "happiness" take, when they 
burn their ships and trust their lives to the caprice of 
men. 

As he contemplated the loveliness of her figure, it 



484 WOLF SOLENT 

struck him as infinitely pathetic that even beauty such as 
hers should be so dependent on the sexual humours of 
this man or that man for its adequate appreciation. 

Beauty like that, he thought, as he looked at her, ought 
to endow its possessor with super-human happiness, as in 
the old legends, when the immortal gods made love to 
the daughters of men. There was a cruel irony in the 
fact that he of al men had been singled out to possess 
this beauty he whose heart of hearts had been given to 
a different being! 

And as he pondered on all ihis it struck him as strange 
that such rare loveliness should not protect her, like 
silver armour, against the shocks and outrages of life. 
Beauty as unusual as this was a high gift, like a poet's 
genius, and ought to have the power of protecting a 
girl's heart from the cruel inconstancies of love. 

"I suppose it is true," he thought, "that when they 
have been a man's bedfellow, even for a few months, 
some peculiar link establishes itself which it is as diffi- 
cult to break as if one tore a grafted sapling from the 
branch of a tree. I suppose," so his thoughts drifted 
on, "that my love is really more important, in this blind 
primordial way, to Gerda just because we have now 
slept together for three months than it could ever be 
to Christie, though she lives inside my very soul! I sup- 
pose it's the old fatalily of flesh to flesh, of blind matter, 
proving itself, after all, the strongest thing on earth." 

And then, before he had the least notion that his 
thoughts would drift in such a direction, he found him- 
self engaged in a passionate dispute with his father. It 
was as if the dispute were actually going on down at the 



ROUNDED WITH A SLEEP 485 

bottom of that grave; and though he still found himself 
calling William Solent "Old Truepenny," he felt as if 
he had become a lean worm down there, in the darkness 
of that hollow skull, arguing with it, arguing with what 
remained still conscious and critical, although lost "in 
the pit." 

"This world is not made of bread and honey," cried 
Wolf, the worm, to the skull of his father, "nor of the 
sweet flesh of girls. This world is made of clouds and of 
the shadows of clouds. It is made of mental landscapes, 
porous as air, where men and women are as trees walk- 
ing, and as reeds shaken by the wind." 

But the skull answered him in haste and spoke roughly 
to him. "What you have found out today, worm of my 
folly, I had outgrown when I was in the Sixth at Rams- 
gard and was seduced by Western Minor in the Head- 
master's garden. To turn the world again into mist and 
vapour is easy and weak. To keep it alive, to keep it 
real, to hold if at arm's length, is the way of gods and 
demons." 

And Wolf, hearing this, lifted up his worm's-voice 
within that mocker and cried out upon its lewd clay-cold 
cunning. 

"There is no reality but what the mind fashions out 
of itself. There is nothing but a mirror opposite a mir- 
ror, and a round crystal opposite a round crystal, and a 
sky in water opposite water in a sky." 

"Ho ! Ho ! You worm of my folly," laughed the hollow 
skull. "I am alive still, though I am dead; and you are 
dead, though you're alive. For life is beyond your mir- 
rors and your waters. It's at the bottom of your pond; it's 



486 WOLF SOLENT 

in the body of your sun; it's in the dust of your star- 
spaces; it's in the eyes of weasels and the noses of rats 
and the pricks of nettles and the tongues of vipers and the 
spawn of frogs and the slime of snails. Life's in me still, 
you worm of my folly, and girls' flesh is sweet for 
ever and ever; and honey is sticky and tears are salt 
and yellow-hammers' eggs have mischievous crooked 
scrawls!" 

Wolf saw himself rising erect upon his tail as he heard 
these words. 

"You lie to yourself, Truepenny! You lie with the old, 
hot, shuffling, fever-smitten lie. It's the foam-bubbles of 
your life-mania that you think so real. They're no more 
real than the dreams of the plantains that grow over 
your grave!" 

A movement of Gerda, though she still remained 
asleep, broke up the current of his fancies, and he pulled 
out his watch. 

Damn! It was time for him to start now, if he was 
to reach Mr. Urquhart's house at the accustomed hour. 

"I won't have tea with him" he thought. "I'll have 
tea at the Otters'. Then I'll find out if Mattie and Olwen 
are still all right there." 

He rose to his feet. From the hushed indrawn beauty 
of the hour he gathered up new strength for the burden 
of human fate he seemed destined to carry. 

Fragment by fragment he collected what was over 
from their lunch and put it back in Gerda's basket, prod- 
ding into the soft earth of a mole-hill, with the end of 
his stick, the bits of paper in which those things had 
been tied up. 



ROUNDED WITH A SLEEP 487 

Then, stretching out his arms and seizing with each 
hand a branch of a young sycamore, he swung these two 
pliant limbs backwards and forwards, while his gaze 
concentrated itself upon the girl at his feet. 

But as he did this the transparency ebbed away from 
the vision of his days, and a fantastic doubt assailed him. 
Was Gerda's sleep so deep and happy because of some 
occult affinity between her nerves and this historic hill? 

As if to give substance to his fancy, the girl rolled 
over languidly at that moment and lay prone, burying 
both her outstretched hands in the soft moss. A deep, 
shuddering sigh passed through her; and her body vis- 
ibly quivered under her thin dress. 

Was there some strange non-human eroticism, he won- 
dered, in this contact between the heathen soil and that 
sleeping figure? He smiled to himself and then frowned 
uneasily. He began to feel obscurely piqued by the girl's 
remoteness and inaccessibility. He felt as if he were ac- 
tually looking on at some legendary encounter between 
the body of Gerda and the crafty super-human desire of 
some earth-god. He began to feel an insidious jealousy 
of Poll's Camp, an obstinate hostility to its mossy curves 
and grassy hollows. 

"Very well!" he thought, in his fantastic irritation, as 
if he actually beheld his companion in the very arms 
of the hill-god. "If she draws away from me, I can draw 
away from her!" And his eyes, wandering to the roofs 
of the town, settled on that quarter where he knew the 
roof of the book-shop to be. He tightened his hold upon 
the. two saplings; and inhaling deeply that hushed, warm 
air, he mentally swept off the roof of Christie's house, 



m WOLF SOLENT 

and lifting the wraith-image of her high into the clouds 
he never visualized Christie's actual appearance in any 
of these cerebral excursions he whirled her away with 
him towards that lonely cone-shaped hill, rising out of 
the plain, that he knew to be Glastonbury. 

It was a queer dalliance of the mind that he indulged 
in just then; for he felt that this airy wraith, that was 
Christie Malakite, was in some way the child of that 
mystical plain down there, that "chess-board of King 
Arthur"; whereas the girl at his feet was in league with 
whatever more remote and more heathen powers had 
dominated this embattled hill. King Arthur's strangely 
involved personality, with the great Merlin at his side, 
was associated with both. But Christie's "Arthur" be- 
longed to Glastonbury; Gerda's, to a far earlier time. 

Wolf's mind now began analyzing in a more rational 
manner this difference between the hill he stood upon 
and the landscape stretched out before him. "It must be," 
he thought, "that this mass of earth is a far older por- 
tion of the planet's surface than the plain beneath it. 
Even if its magnetism is purely chemical and free from 
anything that reverts to the old religions, it may very 
well exercise a definite effect upon human nerves! The 
plain must, within measurable years, have been covered 
by the sea. Where those elm-trees now grow there must 
have been shells and sand and swaying seaweeds and 
great sea-sponges and voyaging shoals of fish. And this 
recent emerging from the ocean cannot but have given 
a certain chastened quality, like the quality of old me- 
diaeval pictures, to these 'chess-board fields.' " 



ROUNDED WITH A SLEEP 489 

He stared, frowning intently, at the curves and hol- 
lows of Poll's Camp. 

"How many men," he wondered, "since the black 
cormorants and foolish guillemots screamed around these 
escarpments, have stood still, as I am doing now, and 
wrestled with the secret of this promontory?" Did any 
of the serfs of Arthur, or of Merlin the magician, lean 
here upon their spades and let their souls sink down and 
down, into motions of primal matter older than any 
gods? Did any of the Roman legionaries, stark and 
stoical, making of this hill "a sacred place" for some 
strange new cult of Mithras, forget both Mithras and 
Apollo under this terrestrial magnetism this power that 
already was spreading abroad its influence long before 
Saturn was born of Uranus? 

"Poll's Camp is heathen through and through," he 
thought; "and even if the old gods never existed, there's 
a power here that in some queer way . . . perhaps just 
chemically ... is at once bewildering and hostile to 
me. But the valley . . . this unobtrusive, chastened val- 
ley ... like some immense sad-coloured flower floating 
upon hidden waler ... oh, it is the thing I love best 
of all!" 

He released the two pliable sycamore-branches and let 
his hands sink down; while the thick, cool leaves of the 
young trees, so resilient and sturdy on their smooth 
purplish stalks, flapped against his forehead. 

"The spirit of this hill escapes me," he thought. "I 
have an inkling that it is even now watching me with 
definite malignity. But I can't understand the nature of 



490 WOLF SOLENT 

what it threatens. There are powers here . . . powers 
. . . though, by God! they may be only chemical. But 
what is chemical? . . ." 

He turned his eyes almost petulantly to the south- 
western limits of the valley, to where Leo's Hill and 
Nevilton Hill broke the level expanse. 

"Those hills are not like this one," he thought; "and 
as for Glastonbury, it's like the pollen-bearing pistil of 
the whole lotus-vale! But this place ... on my soul, it 
has something about it that makes me think of Mr. Ur- 
quhart. It's watching me. And I believe at this moment it 
is making love to Gerda!" 

He sighed and picked up his hat and oak-stick. 

"I must wake Gerda and be off," he said to himself. 
"1 shall be late as it is."